Journal Article

Low Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor Related to Depression


The symptoms of depression are common among persons living with HIV. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) helps the brain to develop new connections and repair older ones and may have some influences on depression frequency.  For example, antidepressants may work by increasing BDNF in the brain. 

This study reports the effect of BDNF level on symptoms of depression and other factors. Low levels of BDNF were associated with AIDS diagnoses and CD4 count but also with poor scores on tests indicating the presence of depressive symptoms.  It appears that there is a relationship between BDNF and depression. It will be important to monitor the effect of changes in BDNF level over time to determine the effect on depressive levels and brain injury.  


Symptoms of depression are common among persons with HIV (PWH) and can have a significant impact on socioeconomic and personal well-being, but little is known about their neurobiological substrates in the context of HIV disease. This study examined the possible role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in symptoms of depression and other aspects of mood in 109 PWH and 43 seronegative participants aged 50 and older. Participants completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS) which measured six dimensions of mood and was normatively adjusted for sex. A model controlling for medical comorbidities and substance use diagnoses among PWH showed a significant interaction between BDNF and POMS subscales. Planned post hoc analyses revealed that lower BDNF was only associated with higher scores on Depression-Dejection and Confusion-Bewilderment POMS subscales among PWH and at small-to-medium effect sizes. Lower levels of BDNF were associated with AIDS diagnoses and CD4 count, but not with viremia or duration of infection. BDNF levels did not differ between the PWH and HIV - samples, and there were no significant correlations between BDNF and any POMS variable in the HIV - group. Findings implicate BDNF in the neuropathophysiology of specific depressive symptoms in the context of HIV disease. Future studies may examine whether BDNF levels change over time, are sensitive to other aspects of mood disorders in HIV, and are associated with markers of HIV-associated neural injury.

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