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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jul;95(7):3532-6. doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-0127. Epub 2010 Apr 28.

Lower brain-derived neurotrophic factor in patients with prader-willi syndrome compared to obese and lean control subjects.

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  • 1Unit on Growth and Obesity, Program in Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.



Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) haploinsufficiency is associated with hyperphagia and obesity in both animals and humans. BDNF appears to function downstream of the leptin-melanocortin signaling pathway to control energy balance. The potential role of BDNF in the etiology of the severe hyperphagia associated with PWS has not been previously explored.


The aim was to compare BDNF concentrations in subjects with PWS and obese controls (OC) and lean controls (LC).


We conducted a cross-sectional study at an outpatient clinical research center.


We studied 13 subjects with PWS [five females and eight males; mean + or - sd: age, 11.0 + or - 4.1 yr; body mass index (BMI)-Z, 2.05 + or - 0.78], 13 OC (eight females, five males; age, 12.3 + or - 2.7 yr; BMI-Z, 2.18 + or - 0.61), and 13 LC (six females, seven males; age, 12.4 + or - 2.6 yr; BMI-Z, -0.57 + or - 0.73).


BDNF was measured in serum and plasma by ELISA. Analysis of covariance adjusted for age, sex, and BMI-Z.


All groups were comparable for age (P = 0.50) and sex distribution (P = 0.49). BMI-Z was comparable between PWS and OC (P = 0.89) and lower in LC (P < 0.001). Adjusted serum BDNF was comparable (P = 0.35) in OC (mean + or - sem: 13.5 + or - 1.2 ng/ml) and LC (19.2 + or - 1.3 ng/ml), but lower in PWS (8.3 + or - 1.2 ng/ml; P = 0.01 vs. OC; P = 0.03 vs. LC). Adjusted plasma BDNF in PWS (217 + or - 130 pg/ml) was lower than OC (422 + or - 126 pg/ml; P = 0.02), but statistically comparable with LC (540 + or - 143 pg/ml; P = 0.10).


Lower BDNF in PWS suggests insufficient central BDNF production because BDNF in peripheral circulation is believed to reflect cerebral BDNF output. Decreased BDNF may be a potential cause for the disordered satiety and morbid obesity associated with PWS. Further studies are needed to confirm this preliminary pilot study in a larger cohort of patients with PWS.

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