Decreased levels of serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor in both depressed and euthymic patients with unipolar depression and in euthymic patients with bipolar I and II disorders


  • The authors of this paper do not have any commercial associations that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with this manuscript.

Palmiero Monteleone, MD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Naples SUN, Largo Madonna delle Grazie, 80138 Naples, Italy. Fax: +39 081 566 6523; e-mail:


Objectives:  Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been proposed as a candidate molecule in the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorders (BD). Reduced levels of peripheral BDNF have been found in drug-free MDD patients, in drug-treated depressed or manic patients with BD type I (BD-I), but not in drug-treated euthymic BD-I individuals. No study has been done in patients with BD type II (BD-II). Moreover, the influence of Axis I psychiatric comorbidity on circulating BDNF in affective patients has never been evaluated. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed: (i) to confirm previous findings on peripheral BDNF in MDD and BD-I patients; (ii) to assess whether changes in circulating BDNF occur also in patients with BD-II; and (iii) to exclude the possibility that comorbid psychiatric disorders exerted an effect on BDNF levels in affective patients.

Methods:  We measured serum BDNF concentrations by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay method in 85 subjects, including 24 euthymic patients with unipolar depression (UD), 17 euthymic patients with BD-I, 11 euthymic patients with BD-II, 11 UD patients with a current major depressive episode and 22 drug-free healthy controls. At the time of the study, 15 patients were drug-treated; the remaining ones were drug-free for at least four weeks.

Results:  Compared to healthy controls, serum BDNF concentrations were significantly reduced in all the patient groups (F4,80 = 3.840, p = 0.006) with no significant difference among them. Drug treatments and comorbid psychiatric disorders had no effect on lowered circulating BDNF levels in affective patients.

Conclusions:  Present results confirm previous independent findings of reduced circulating BDNF in patients with MDD and report, for the first time, decreased serum BDNF levels in euthymic patients with UD, BD-I and BD-II, independently from drug treatment status and concomitant Axis I psychiatric disorders.