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Role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in eating disorders: recent findings and its pathophysiological implications.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Chiba University Graduate School of Medicine, 1-8-1 Inohana, Chiba 260-8670, Japan.


Eating disorders, which include anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN), are disorders characterized by abnormal patterns of weight regulation and eating behaviors, and by disturbances in attitudes and perceptions toward weight and body shape. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays a critical role in regulating neural survival, development, function, and plasticity in the brain. Recent findings using heterozygous BDNF (+/-) knock-out (reduced BDNF levels) mice have provided evidence that BDNF plays a role in regulating eating behaviors. Recently, we found that serum levels of BDNF in patients with eating disorders are significantly decreased compared with normal controls. In addition, an association between the BDNF gene polymorphism and eating disorders has been demonstrated. We reviewed the role of BDNF in the pathophysiology of eating disorders and the BDNF gene as a susceptibility gene for eating disorders. Considering the low levels of BDNF in patients with eating disorders, using drugs that increase the BDNF levels and/or BDNF gene therapy are possible novel therapeutic approaches. Providing confirmation that the BDNF gene is the true susceptibility gene for eating disorders could lead to rapid therapeutic progress in treating these disorders. In addition, a more complete understanding of the signal transduction pathway via the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) and TrkB receptors would provide new perspectives for treating eating disorders.

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