Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a member of the nerve growth factor family. It is induced by cortical neurons, and is necessary for the survival of striatal neurons in the brain. The BDNF gene, localized to chromosome 11p13, contains a common polymorphism (val66met) that is thought to modulate hippocampal neuronal plasticity, making it a good candidate in the aetiology of psychiatric and behavioural phenotypes. It has been proposed that the BDNF gene may play a particular role in the biology of mood disorders, and a number of studies have found that the val66met polymorphism is associated with individual variation in emotional reactivity and episodic memory.
In a study to be published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, Joshua Bueller and colleagues at The University of Michigan show that this BDNF variant is associated with reduced hippocampal volume. In their study, the hippocampal formation was measured using high-resolution anatomical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a sample of 36 healthy volunteers. Hippocampal size was compared between individuals as a function of the presence of the met-BDNF allele. The researchers found that the met-BDNF allele was associated with an 11% reduction in the volume of the hippocampal formation.
The authors conclude that their data provide further evidence that the BDNF gene is important for hippocampal development. They propose that the common val66met polymorphism may be an important susceptibility factor for the development of disease processes associated with hippocampal dysfunction.
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