What is the role of BDNF in the brain
BDNF is a type of neurotrophin. Neurotrophins promote the survival and growth of neurons, a communication cell used to share information within the brain and nervous system . BDNF is particularly essential for cognitive performance, in functions such as memory and learning , and neurotrophins like BDNF are required for proper nervous system development.
Though peripheral nerves, or nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord, can spontaneously regenerate after injury, their complete recovery is unlikely. Because of its role in initiating neuron growth, BDNF has been found to play a role in peripheral nerve regeneration. Studies show that BDNF treatments have been successful in treating peripheral nerve regeneration in animal models, and some success is being seen in human patients.
What is BDNF?
BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a small protein produced in the brain that stimulates the growth and survival of neurons . BDNF assists in neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adjust to change . Neuroplasticity connects learning and memory—how our brain adapts, masters new abilities, and stores information .
Important roles of BDNF for cognitive performance and mental health
Promoting neuronal growth and survival
BDNF stimulates the growth, generation, and survival of neurons.. The development and preservation of neuronal networks depend on how many neurotrophins, including BDNF, are synthesized and released .
Formation of synapses (synaptogenesis)
The places where neurons connect and communicate with each other are known as synapses . They control the flow of information between neurons and their target cells. Synapses, and their creation, are also the foundation for functions such as memory and learning. Neurotrophins (like BDNF) control the number and arrangement of synapses .
Neural activities such as mental challenges influence the formation and preservation of synapses, controlling synaptic strength . These activities also increase the creation and secretion of BDNF, stimulating even more synapses .
Changes in neuronal connections, known as synaptic plasticity, are the main factors for learning and memory .
Neurotrophins encourage synaptic plasticity, as well as help to preserve cells and assign them their function . Of all neurotrophins, BDNF is unique because of its high levels in the brain and its powerful effect on synapses .
Memory helps with learning, memorization, and recalling stored information. The changes in synaptic plasticity affect learning and memory, and BDNF contributes to these processes. The hippocampus is an area of the brain devoted to memory. Aging, lack of physical activity, and low BDNF levels naturally decrease hippocampal activity .
Mood disorders are among the most common and repetitive mental disorders. Poor regulation of synaptic plasticity, along with changes in neurotrophin levels (like BDNF), could lead to mood disorders .
The hippocampus is also often associated with the development of mood disorders and brain BDNF levels tend to be abnormal in affected individuals .
Though cognitive performance depends on many factors, BDNF has a significant role. It promotes growth and survival of neurons, and neurons control the flow of information within the central nervous system.
It’s important to shed light on the complex processes involved in our day-to-day lives, and be aware of their influence on our mental health and most basic functions. Now that you are aware of the importance of BDNF, you may consider what influences the rise or fall of your own brain’s levels.
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Aida Ombašić is most interested in understanding human behavior. Her lab experience at IBU has solidified her commitment to a career as a scientist. She loves to find ways to make complex theories practical and easy-to-understand.
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