The role of BDNF and its receptors in depression and antidepressant drug action: Reactivation of developmental plasticity

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Abstract

Recent evidence suggests that neuronal plasticity plays an important role in the recovery from depression. Antidepressant drugs and electroconvulsive shock treatment increase the expression of several molecules, which are associated with neuronal plasticity, in particular the neurotrophin BDNF and its receptor TrkB. Furthermore, these treatments increase neurogenesis and synaptic numbers in several brain areas. Conversely, depression, at least in its severe form, is associated with reduced volumes of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex and in at least some cases these neurodegenerative signs can be attenuated by successful treatment. Such observations suggest a central role for neuronal plasticity in depression and the antidepressant effect, and also implicate BDNF signaling as a mediator of this plasticity. The antidepressant fluoxetine can reactivate developmental-like neuronal plasticity in the adult visual cortex, which, under appropriate environmental guidance, leads to the rewiring of a developmentally dysfunctional neural network. These observations suggest that the simple form of the neurotrophic hypothesis of depression, namely, that deficient levels of neurotrophic support underlies mood disorders and increases in these neurotrophic factors to normal levels brings about mood recovery, may not sufficiently explain the complex process of recovery from depression. This review discusses recent data on the role of BDNF and its receptors in depression and the antidepressant response and suggests a model whereby the effects of antidepressant treatments could be explained by a reactivation of activity-dependent and BDNF-mediated cortical plasticity, which in turn leads to the adjustment of neuronal networks to better adapt to environmental challenges. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Develop Neurobiol 2010

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