Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) signaling has been implicated in the onset of depression and in antidepressant efficacy, although the exact role of this neurotrophin in the pathophysiology of depression remains to be elucidated. Also, the interaction between chronic stress, which may precede depression, corticosteroids and BDNF is not fully understood. The present study aimed at investigating whether long-lasting, recurrent tethering of sows during a period of 1.5 or 4.5 years leads to enduring effects on measures that may be indicative of chronic stress, compared with animals kept in a group housing system ('loose' sows). Immediately after slaughter, the frontal cortex, dorsal and ventral hippocampus were dissected and protein levels of BDNF and its receptors were analyzed and compared with plasma cortisol levels and adrenal weights. Results indicate that tethering stress reduced BDNF protein levels in the dorsal hippocampus and the frontal cortex, but not in the ventral hippocampus. In addition, levels of TrkB, the high affinity receptor for BDNF, were increased in the dorsal hippocampus. Plasma cortisol levels and adrenal weight were increased after tethering. These stress effects on BDNF levels were more pronounced after 4.5 years of recurrent tethering and negatively correlated in particular in the frontal cortex with cortisol levels and adrenal weight. This suggests that the stress effect of tethered housing on neurotrophin levels may be mediated via cortisol. Taken together, these data indicate that recurrent tethering stress in sows over 4.5 years results in a loss of neurotrophic support by BDNF, mediated by an overactive neuroendocrine system.