Brain-derived neurotrophic factor: A dynamic gatekeeper of neural plasticity

Kiriana K. Cowansage, Joseph E. Ledoux, Marie H. Monfils

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a member of the neurotrophin family of structurally related proteins that promote neuronal differentiation and survival during development [1, 2], is a potent modulator of synaptic plasticity [3-7]. Changes in BDNF expression, release and neuromodulatory activity, mediated by both epigenetic and posttranslational mechanisms, have been associated with many pathological conditions and developmental experiences, such as maternal deprivation and environmental enrichment. Much effort has been devoted to studying plasticity in the hippocampus, a structure traditionally associated with learning and memory, yet there is increasing empirical support for the contribution of another structure-the amygdala-to BDNF-induced changes. Because the amygdala is a critical site for emotional memory formation, and many emotional and neurodevelopmental pathologies have been linked to amygdalabased abnormalities, considerable efforts have been devoted to the characterization of its circuitry [8-11]. Here we review the role of BDNF as a biochemical integrator of convergent cellular signals, and as a central driver of neural plasticity. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of characterizing BDNF signaling cascades in behaviorally-relevant networks, to identify potential drug targets for novel therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-29
Number of pages18
JournalCurrent Molecular Pharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • Memory
  • Plasticity. learning
  • Psychopathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery


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