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Learn Mem. 2003 Mar-Apr;10(2):86-98.

BDNF and activity-dependent synaptic modulation.

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  • 1Section on Neural Development and Plasticity, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland 20892-4480, USA.


It is widely accepted that neuronal activity plays a pivotal role in synaptic plasticity. Neurotrophins have emerged recently as potent factors for synaptic modulation. The relationship between the activity and neurotrophic regulation of synapse development and plasticity, however, remains unclear. A prevailing hypothesis is that activity-dependent synaptic modulation is mediated by neurotrophins. An important but unresolved issue is how diffusible molecules such as neurotrophins achieve local and synapse-specific modulation. In this review, I discuss several potential mechanisms with which neuronal activity could control the synapse-specificity of neurotrophin regulation, with particular emphasis on BDNF. Data accumulated in recent years suggest that neuronal activity regulates the transcription of BDNF gene, the transport of BDNF mRNA and protein into dendrites, and the secretion of BDNF protein. There is also evidence for activity-dependent regulation of the trafficking of the BDNF receptor, TrkB, including its cell surface expression and ligand-induced endocytosis. Further study of these mechanisms will help us better understand how neurotrophins could mediate activity-dependent plasticity in a local and synapse-specific manner.

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