Learn about Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

May 15, 2023
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What is BDNF

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein found in the brain that plays an important role in the growth, development, and maintenance of neurons. It is involved in memory formation, learning, and mood regulation. BDNF also helps to protect neurons from damage caused by stress or injury. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays a vital role in learning due to its involvement in various processes such as synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and long-term potentiation (LTP). These processes are essential for the formation and consolidation of new memories, as well as the adaptation and modification of existing neural connections in response to new experiences.

Synaptic Plasticity

Synaptic plasticity is the ability of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, to change their strength. This dynamic process allows the brain to adapt to new information and experiences. BDNF influences synaptic plasticity by regulating the growth and differentiation of neurons and the formation and maintenance of synapses. By modulating these processes, BDNF helps establish new neural connections and refine existing ones, which are crucial for learning and memory.


Neurogenesis refers to the process of generating new neurons from neural stem cells. In the adult brain, neurogenesis predominantly occurs in the hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory. BDNF has been found to promote neurogenesis by stimulating the proliferation and differentiation of neural stem cells into mature neurons. The newly generated neurons can then be incorporated into existing neural circuits, enhancing the brain's capacity to learn and adapt to new experiences.

Long-Term Potentiation (LTP)

LTP is a cellular mechanism that strengthens the connections between neurons, enabling the formation and consolidation of memories. During LTP, the repeated activation of a neural pathway increases synaptic strength, making it easier for the connected neurons to transmit signals. BDNF plays a pivotal role in LTP by enhancing the release of neurotransmitters, increasing the responsiveness of postsynaptic receptors, and promoting the growth and remodeling of dendritic spines (the tiny protrusions on neurons that receive synaptic input).

In addition to its direct effects on these neural processes, BDNF interacts with other molecules and signaling pathways supporting learning and memory. For instance, BDNF can modulate the activity of neurotransmitter systems, such as the glutamatergic and dopaminergic systems, which are essential for cognitive functions. Furthermore, BDNF has been shown to regulate gene expression in synaptic function and plasticity, further emphasizing its multifaceted role in learning.

BDNF is a critical factor in learning due to its involvement in vital neural processes such as synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and long-term potentiation. By modulating these processes and interacting with other molecular and cellular mechanisms, BDNF helps facilitate the formation and consolidation of memories and the adaptation and refinement of neural connections in response to new experiences.



Brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/brain-derived-neurotrophic-factor

 Bathina S, Das UN. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. Arch Med Sci. 2015 Dec 10;11(6):1164-78. doi: 10.5114/aoms.2015.56342. Epub 2015 Dec 11. PMID: 26788077; PMCID: PMC4697050.

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