Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and schizophrenia

Pasquale Di Carlo, Giovanna Punzi, Gianluca Ursini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a secretory growth factor that promotes neuronal proliferation and survival, synaptic plasticity and long-term potentiation in the central nervous system. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor biosynthesis and secretion are chrono-topically regulated processes at the cellular level, accounting for specific localizations and functions. Given its role in regulating brain development and activity, BDNF represents a potentially relevant gene for schizophrenia, and indeed BDNF and its non-synonymous functional variant, rs6265 (C → T, Val → Met) have been widely studied in psychiatric genetics. Human and animal studies have indicated that brain-derived neurotrophic factor is relevant for schizophrenia-related phenotypes, and that: (1) fine-tuned regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor secretion and activity is necessary to guarantee brain optimal development and functioning; (2) the Val → Met substitution is associated with impaired activity-dependent secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor; (3) disruption of brain-derived neurotrophic factor signaling is associated with altered synaptic plasticity and neurodevelopment. However, genome-wide association studies failed to associate the BDNF locus with schizophrenia, even though a sub-threshold association exists. Here, we will review studies focused on the relationship between the genetic variation of BDNF and schizophrenia, trying to fill the gap between genetic risk per se and insights from molecular biology. A deeper understanding of brain-derived neurotrophic factor biology and of the epigenetic regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its interactome during development may help clarifying the potential role of this gene in schizophrenia, thus informing development of brain-derived neurotrophic factor-based strategies of prevention and treatment of this disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-210
Number of pages11
JournalPsychiatric genetics
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • genetics
  • neurodevelopment
  • rs6265
  • schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Genetics
  • Biological Psychiatry


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