Relationship: 347



Decreased, Calcium influx leads to BDNF, Reduced

Upstream event


Decreased, Calcium influx

Downstream event


BDNF, Reduced

Key Event Relationship Overview


AOPs Referencing Relationship


Taxonomic Applicability


Sex Applicability


Life Stage Applicability


How Does This Key Event Relationship Work


Mainly, NMDA receptor activation initiates Ca2+-dependent signaling events that regulate the expression of genes involved in regulation of neuronal function including bdnf (reviewed in Cohen and Greenberg, 2008). Inhibition of NMDA receptors results in low levels of Ca2+ and decreased transcription of BDNF and consequently to low level of BDNF protein production and release.

Weight of Evidence


Biological Plausibility


BDNF transcription is induced by Ca2+ entering through either L type voltage gated calcium channel (L-VGCC) (Tao et al., 1998) or NMDA receptor (Tabuchi et al., 2000; Zheng et al., 2011) that can last up to 6 h. BDNF IV that is the most studied among its different exons has been shown to bind three Ca2+ elements within the regulatory region (reviewed in Zheng et al., 2012). One of these Ca2+ elements binds to CREB facilitating transcription. However, more transcription factors rather than only CREB are implicated in the transcription process of BDNF such as NFAT (nuclear factor of activated T cell), MEF2 (myocyte enhancer factor 2) and NFκB (nuclear factor κB) (reviewed in Zheng et al., 2012). The activation of the relevant transcription factor is triggered by the initial activation of CaM kinase, cAMP/PKA and Ras/ERK1/2 pathways mediated by the elevated intracellular Ca2+. Interestingly, inhibitory studies targeting different elements of these pathways report reduction at mRNA BDNF levels (reviewed in Zheng et al., 2012).

In particular, exon IV BDNF mRNA transcription is regulated by a transcriptional silencer, methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2), demonstrating that epigenetic alterations can also regulate BDNF transcription. Increase of intracellular Ca2+ levels phosphorylates MeCP2, which inactivates its repressor function and permits the transcription of BDNF exon IV (Chen et al., 2003; Greer and Greenberg, 2008; Tao et al., 2009; Zhou et al., 2006). Indeed, NMDA receptor activation has been shown to upregulate BDNF transcripts containing exon IV not only via Ca2+-dependent CREB but also through Ca2+ activation of MeCP2 transcription (Metsis et al., 1993; Shieh et al., 1998, Tao et al., 1998; Tabuchi et al., 2000; Chen et al., 2003; Jiang et al., 2005; Zheng et al., 2011), whereas NMDAR antagonists decrease BDNF exon IV expression (Zafra et al., 1991; Stansfield et al., 2012). Furthermore, BDNF mRNA is also targeted in different locations within the cell during the process of translation, depending on the promoter used (reviewed in Tongiorgi et al., 2006).

Interestingly, synaptic and extra-synaptic NMDARs have opposite effects on CREB: indeed calcium entry through synaptic NMDAR induced CREB activity and BDNF gene expression. In contrast, calcium entry through extra-synaptic NMDAR activates a general and dominant CREB shut-off pathway that blocked induction of BDNF expression (Hardingham et al., 2002). 

Empirical Support for Linkage


Include consideration of temporal concordance here

There is no direct evidence linking reduced levels of Ca2+ to decreased BDNF levels as they have not been ever measured both in the same study after exposure to stressors. However, there are findings that strongly link the different elements of Ca2+-dependent signalling events to transcription of BDNF.

Pb2+: Pb2+ decreases the ratio of phosphorylated versus total MeCP2 and consequently MeCP2 maintains its repressor function and prevents BDNF exon IV transcription (Stansfield et al., 2012). MeCP2 gene expression in the frontal cortex is very sensitive to Pb2+ exposure while in the hippocampus, the same gene is affected only at the higher exposure group in rat pups with blood Pb2+ levels 5.8 to 10.3 μg/dl on PND 55 (Schneider et al., 2012). In two different in vivo studies from the same research group, the use of doses of Pb2+ that result in learning and LTP deficits in rats causes decrease in phosphorylation of CREB in cerebral cortex at 14 PND and the same reduction in phosphorylation state of CREB in both cortex and hippocampus at PND 50 (Toscano et al., 2002; 2003). Interestingly, under similar experimental conditions no alteration at the phosphorylation state of CAMKII has been recorded (Toscano et al., 2005). In primary hippocampal neurons exposed to 1 μM Pb2+ for 5 days during the period of synaptogenesis (DIV7–DIV12), both the cellular and extracellular proBDNF protein levels of mBDNF decrease with the latter to smaller extend (Neal et al., 2010). In the same in vitro model, Pb2+ also decreases dendritic proBDNF protein levels throughout the length of the dendrites and causes impairment of BDNF vesicle transport to sites of release in dendritic spines (Stansfield et al., 2012). Furthermore, Pb2+ treatment resulted in a specific reduction of Bdnf exon IV and IX mRNA transcripts causing no alteration in the expression of exons I and II (Stansfield et al., 2012). Rat pups on PND 25 exposed to Pb2+ (180 and 375-ppm lead acetate in food for 30 days) demonstrated blood Pb2+ levels 5.8 to 10.3 μg/dl on PND 55 and show no change at gene levels of BDNF (Schneider et al., 2012). In mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs), Bdnf exon IV has been found to be down-regulated in cells treated with 0.1 µM Pb, whereas Bdnf exon IX has been found up-regulated (Sánchez-Martín et al., 2013).

Uncertainties or Inconsistencies


In a gene expression study, where gene analysis has been performed in the hippocampus derived from male or female rats fed with 1500 ppm Pb2+-containing chow for 30 days beginning at weaning, two molecular networks have been identified that were different between male and female treated rats. In these networks, CREB was the highly connected node, common for both networks (Schneider et al., 2011). However, no change has been reported in the expression of bdnf gene neither in male nor in female rats treated with Pb2+ (Schneider et al., 2011).

Quantitative Understanding of the Linkage


Is it known how much change in the first event is needed to impact the second? Are there known modulators of the response-response relationships? Are there models or extrapolation approaches that help describe those relationships?

No enough data is available to address the questions above.

Evidence Supporting Taxonomic Applicability




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Cohen S, Greenberg ME. (2008) Communication between the synapse and the nucleus in neuronal development, plasticity and disease. Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 24: 183-209.

Greer PL, Greenberg ME. (2008) From synapse to nucleus: Calcium-dependent gene transcription in the control of synapse development and function. Neuron 59: 846-860.

Hardingham GE, Bading H. 2002. Coupling of extrasynaptic NMDA receptors to a CREB shut-off pathway is developmentally regulated. Biochim Biophys Acta 1600(1-2): 148-153.

Heaton MB, Mitchell JJ, Paiva M. (1999) Ethanol-induced alterations in neurotrophin expression in developing cerebellum: relationship to periods of temporal susceptibility. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 23: 1637-1642.

Jiang X, Tian F, Mearow K, Okagaki P, Lipsky RH, Marini AM. (2005) The excitoprotective effect of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors is mediated by a brain-derived neurotrophic factor autocrine loop in cultured hippocampal neurons. J Neurochem. 94: 713-722.

Metsis M, Timmusk T, Arenas E, Persson H. (1993) Differential usage of multiple brain-derived neurotrophic factor promoters in the rat brain following neuronal activation. Proc Natl Acad. Sci USA. 90: 8802-8806.

Neal AP, Stansfield KH, Worley PF, Thompson RE, Guilarte TR. (2010) Lead exposure during synaptogenesis alters vesicular proteins and impairs vesicular release: Potential role of NMDA receptor-dependent BDNF signaling. Toxicol Sci. 116: 249-263.

Sánchez-Martín FJ, Fan Y, Lindquist DM, Xia Y, Puga A. (2013) Lead Induces Similar Gene Expression Changes in Brains of Gestationally Exposed Adult Mice and in Neurons Differentiated from Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells. PLoS One 8: e80558.

Schneider JS, Anderson DW, Sonnenahalli H, Vadigepalli R. (2011) Sex-based differences in gene expression in hippocampus following postnatal lead exposure. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 256: 179-190.

Schneider JS, Mettil W, Anderson DW. (2012). Differential Effect of Postnatal Lead Exposure on Gene Expression in the Hippocampus and Frontal Cortex. J Mol Neurosci. 47: 76-88.

Shieh PB, Hu SC, Bobb K, Timmusk T, Ghosh A. (1998) Identification of a signaling pathway involved in calcium regulation of BDNF expression. Neuron 20: 727–740.

Stansfield KH, Pilsner JR, Lu Q, Wright RO, Guilarte TR. (2012) Dysregulation of BDNF-TrkB signaling in developing hippocampal neurons by Pb(2+): implications for an environmental basis of neurodevelopmental disorders. Toxicol Sci. 127: 277-295.

Toscano CD, Hashemzadeh-Gargari H, McGlothan JL, Guilarte TR. (2002) Developmental Pb2+ exposure alters NMDAR subtypes and reduces CREB phosphorylation in the rat brain. Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 139: 217-226.

Toscano CD, McGlothan JL, Guilarte TR. (2003) Lead exposure alters cyclic-AMP response element binding protein phosphorylation and binding activity in the developing rat brain. Brain Res. Dev. Brain Res. 145: 219-228.

Toscano CD, O'Callaghan JP, Guilarte TR. (2005) Calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II activity and expression are altered in the hippocampus of Pb2+-exposed rats. Brain Res. 1044: 51–58.

Tabuchi A, Nakaoka R, Amano K, Yukimine M, Andoh T, Kuraishi Y and Tsuda M. (2000) Differential activation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene promoters I and III by Ca2+ signals evoked via L-type voltage-dependent and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor Ca2+ channels. J Biol Chem. 275: 17269-17275.

Tongiorgi E, Domenici L, Simonato M. (2006) What is the biological significance of BDNF mRNA targeting in the dendrites? Clues from epilepsy and cortical development. Mol Neurobiol. 33: 17-32.

Zheng F, Zhou X, Luo Y, Xiao H, Wayman G, Wang H. (2011) Regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor exon IV transcription through calcium responsive elements in cortical neurons. PLoS One 6: e28441.

Zheng F, Zhou X, Moon C, Wang H. (2012) Regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression in neurons. In J Pathophysiol Pharmacol 4: 188-200.

Tao X, Finkbeiner S, Arnold DB, Shaywitz AJ, Greenberg ME. (1998) Ca2+ influx regulates BDNF transcription by a CREB family transcription factor-dependent mechanism. Neuron 20: 709-726.

Tao J, Hu K, Chang Q, Wu H, Sherman NE, Martinowich K, Klose RJ, Schanen C, Jaenisch R, Wang W, et al. (2009) Phosphorylation of MeCP2 at Serine 80 regulates its chromatin association and neurological function. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 106: 4882-4887.

Zafra F, Castrén E, Thoenen H, Lindholm D. (1991) Interplay between glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid transmitter systems in the physiological regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor synthesis in hippocampal neurons. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 88: 10037-10041.

Zhou Z, Hong EJ, Cohen S, Zhao WN, Ho HY, Schmidt L, Chen WG, Lin Y, Savner E, Griffith EC, et al. (2006) Brain-specific phosphorylation of MeCP2 regulates activity-dependent Bdnf transcription, dendritic growth, and spine maturation. Neuron 52: 255-269.