Functional and structural specific roles of activity-driven BDNF within circuits formed by single spiny stellate neurons of the barrel cortex

Qian Quan Sun, Zhi Zhang, June Sun, Anand S. Nair, Dan P. Petrus, Chunzhao Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays key roles in several neurodevelopmental disorders and actions of pharmacological treatments. However, it is unclear how specific BDNF’s effects are on different circuit components. Current studies have largely focused on the role of BDNF in modification of synaptic development. The precise roles of BDNF in the refinement of a functional circuit in vivo remain unclear. Val66Met polymorphism of BDNF may be associated with increased risk for cognitive impairments and is mediated at least in part by activity-dependent trafficking and/or secretion of BDNF. Using mutant mice that lacked activity-driven BDNF expression (bdnf-KIV), we previously reported that experience regulation of the cortical GABAergic network is mediated by activity-driven BDNF expression. Here, we demonstrate that activity-driven BDNF’s effects on circuits formed by the layer IV spiny stellate cells are highly specific. Structurally, dendritic but not axonal morphology was altered in the mutant. Physiologically, GABAergic but not glutamatergic synapses were severely affected. The effects on GABA transmission occurs via presynaptic alteration of calcium-dependent release probability. These results suggest that neuronal activity through activity-driven BDNF expression, can selectively regulate specific features of layer IV circuits in vivo. We postulate that the role of activity-dependent BDNF is to modulate the computational ability of circuits that relate to the gain control (i.e., feed-forward inhibition); whereas the basic wiring of circuits relevant to the sensory pathway is spared. Gain control modulation within cortical circuits has broad impact on cognitive processing and brain state-transitions. Cognitive behavior and mode is determined by brain states, thus the studying of circuit alteration by endogenous BDNF provides insights into the cellular and molecular mechanisms of diseases mediated by BDNF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number372
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Issue numberNovember
StatePublished - Nov 6 2014


  • Axonal arborizations
  • Dendritic spine
  • Neurotrophin
  • Presynaptic
  • Variance–mean analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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