In addition to its actions on neuronal survival and differentiation, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has a role in the regulation of synaptic strength. Long-term potentiation, a form of synaptic plasticity, is markedly impaired in BDNF mutant mice, but the changes were restored by the re-expression of BDNF. BDNF also influences the development of patterned connections and the growth and complexity of dendrites in the cerebral cortex. These results suggest a role for BDNF in learning and memory processes, since memory acquisition is considered to involve both short-term changes in electrical properties and long-term structural alterations in synapses. Memory acquisition is associated with an increase in BDNF mRNA and TrkB receptor activation in specific brain areas. Moreover, the pharmacologic and genetic deprivation of BDNF or its receptor TrkB results in severe impairment of learning and memory in mice, rats and chicks. The effect of BDNF on learning and memory may be linked to the modulation of NMDA and non-NMDA receptor functions as well as the expression of synaptic proteins required for exocytosis. Activation of the mitogen-associated protein kinase and/or phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase signaling pathways may be involved in BDNF-dependent learning and memory formation. It is concluded that BDNF/TrkB signaling plays an important role in learning and memory.
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