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      Vagal Nerve Stimulation Rapidly Activates Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptor TrkB in Rat Brain

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          Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) has been approved for treatment-resistant depression. Many antidepressants increase expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in brain or activate, via phosphorylation, its receptor, TrkB. There have been no studies yet of whether VNS would also cause phosphorylation of TrkB.


          Western blot analysis was used to evaluate the phosphorylation status of TrkB in the hippocampus of rats administered VNS either acutely or chronically. Acute effects of VNS were compared with those caused by fluoxetine or desipramine (DMI) whereas its chronic effects were compared with those of sertraline or DMI.


          All treatments, given either acutely or chronically, significantly elevated phosphorylation of tyrosines 705 and 816 on TrkB in the hippocampus. However, only VNS increased the phosphorylation of tyrosine 515, with both acute and chronic administration causing this effect. Pretreatment with K252a, a nonspecific tyrosine kinase inhibitor, blocked the phosphorylation caused by acute VNS at all three tyrosines. Downstream effectors of Y515, namely Akt and ERK, were also phosphorylated after acute treatment with VNS, whereas DMI did not cause this effect.


          VNS rapidly activates TrkB phosphorylation and this effect persists over time. VNS-induced phosphorylation of tyrosine 515 is distinct from the effect of standard antidepressant drugs.

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          Most cited references 60

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          Regulation of BDNF and trkB mRNA in rat brain by chronic electroconvulsive seizure and antidepressant drug treatments.

          The influence of chronic electroconvulsive seizure (ECS) or antidepressant drug treatments on expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its receptor, trkB, was examined by in situ hybridization and Northern blot. In frontal cortex, acute ECS increased BDNF mRNA approximately twofold, an effect significantly augmented by a prior course of chronic ECS treatment (10 d). In the hippocampus, the influence of chronic ECS varied between the major subfields. In the dentate gyrus granule cell layer, chronic ECS decreased the acute induction of BDNF and trkB mRNA by approximately 50%, but prolonged their expression: levels remained elevated two- to threefold 18 hr later after the last chronic ECS treatment, but returned to control 18 hr after acute ECS. In CA3 and CA1 pyramidal cell layers, chronic ECS significantly elevated the acute induction of BDNF, and tended to prolong the expression of BDNF and trkB mRNA. A similar effect was observed in layer 2 of the piriform cortex, where chronic ECS significantly increased the acute induction and prolonged the expression of BDNF and trkB mRNA. Chronic (21 d), but not acute (1 d), administration of several different antidepressant drugs, including tranylcypromine, sertraline, desipramine, or mianserin, significantly increased BDNF mRNA and all but mianserin increased trkB mRNA in hippocampus. In contrast, chronic administration of nonantidepressant psychotropic drugs, including morphine, cocaine, or haloperidol, did not increase levels of BDNF mRNA. Furthermore, chronic administration of ECS or antidepressant drugs completely blocked the down-regulation of BDNF mRNA in the hippocampus in response to restraint stress. The enhanced induction and prolonged expression of BDNF in response to chronic ECS and antidepressant drug treatments could promote neuronal survival, and protect neurons from the damaging effects of stress.
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            Decreased serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in major depressed patients.

            Recent findings with animal models have suggested a possible role for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in depression. We have therefore hypothesized that depression could be characterized by low levels of serum BDNF. Major depressed patients (15F + 15M) diagnosed according to DSM-IV criteria and healthy controls (15F + 15M) participated in the study. Serum BDNF was assayed with the ELISA method and the severity of depression was evaluated with Montgomery-Asberg-Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). BDNF levels were significantly lower in patients than in controls: 22.6 +/- 3 and 26.5 +/- 7 ng/ml (t-test = 2.7; d.f. = 58; P < 0.01). They were negatively correlated to the MADRS scores (r = -0.55; P < 0.02). Female patients were more depressed and released less BDNF than men. Analysis of covariance (MADRS and gender as independent variable vs. BDNF as dependent variable) indicated that depression severity mainly accounted for the negative correlation. These results suggest that major depression is characterized by low serum BDNF levels and support the hypothesis of neurotrophic factor involvement in affective disorders.
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              Alterations of serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in depressed patients with or without antidepressants.

              Because researchers have reported that antidepressants increase the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the rat hippocampus, we investigated whether serum BDNF levels may be used as a putative biological marker for major depressive disorders (MDD). We measured serum BDNF in the following three groups: antidepressant-naive patients with MDD (n = 16), antidepressant-treated patients with MDD (n = 17), and normal control subjects (n = 50). Patients were evaluated using the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D). Serum BDNF was assayed with the sandwich ELISA method. We found that serum BDNF was significantly lower in the antidepressant-naive group (mean, 17.6 ng/mL; SD, 9.6) than in the treated (mean, 30.6 ng/mL; SD, 12.3; p =.001) or in the control group (mean, 27.7 ng/mL; SD, 11.4; p =.002). There was a significant negative correlation (r = -.350, z = -2.003, p =.045) between serum BDNF and HAM-D scores in all patients. In a preliminary examination, reduced BDNF values of three drug-naive patients recovered to basal levels after antidepressant treatment. Our study suggests that low BDNF levels may play a pivotal role in the pathophysiology of MDD and that antidepressants may increase BDNF in depressed patients.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1 May 2012
                : 7
                : 5
                [1 ]Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas, United States of America
                [2 ]South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Audie L. Murphy Division, San Antonio, Texas, United States of America
                INSERM, UMR-S747, France
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: HF FC AF. Performed the experiments: HF FC AF. Analyzed the data: HF FC AF. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: HF FC AF. Wrote the paper: HF FC AF.

                This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.
                Page count
                Pages: 10
                Research Article
                Molecular Cell Biology
                Signal Transduction
                Signaling Cascades
                Tyrosine Kinase Signaling Cascade
                Molecular Neuroscience
                Signaling Pathways
                Peripheral Nervous System
                Neurobiology of Disease and Regeneration
                Drugs and Devices
                Mental Health
                Mood Disorders



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