Serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in major depressive disorder: state-trait issues, clinical features and pharmacological treatment

Marc L Molendijk*, B. A. A. Bus, Ph Spinhoven, Brenda W. J. H. Penninx, G. Kenis, J. Prickaerts, Richard C. Oude Voshaar, Bernet M Elzinga

*Corresponding author for this work

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Recent evidence supports 'the neurotrophin hypothesis of depression' in its prediction that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is involved in depression. However, some key questions remain unanswered, including whether abnormalities in BDNF persist beyond the clinical state of depression, whether BDNF levels are related to the clinical features of depression and whether distinct antidepressants affect BDNF levels equally. We addressed these questions and investigated serum BDNF levels in 962 depressed patients, 700 fully remitted persons (>= 6 months) and 382 healthy controls. We found serum BDNF levels to be low in antidepressant-free depressed patients relative to controls (P = 0.007) and to depressed patients who were treated with an antidepressant (P = 0.001). BDNF levels of fully remitted persons (whether unmedicated or treated with an antidepressant) were comparable to those of controls. Analyzing the sample of antidepressant-free depressed patients showed that BDNF levels were unrelated to the core clinical features of depression such as its severity or first versus a recurrent episode. The antidepressant associated upregulation of serum BDNF in depressed patients was confined to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (P = 0.003) and St John's wort (P = 0.03). Our results suggest that low serum levels of BDNF are a state abnormality that is evident during depression and normalizes during remission. Increases in serum levels of BDNF during antidepressant treatment appear to be confined to some antidepressants and do not parallel clinical characteristics, such as the severity of depressive symptoms. Molecular Psychiatry (2011) 16, 1088-1095; doi:10.1038/mp.2010.98; published online 21 September 2010
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1095
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • depression
  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • antidepressants
  • BDNF

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