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Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Nov 15;54(10):994-1005.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the ventral midbrain-nucleus accumbens pathway: a role in depression.

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Department of Psychiatry, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Texas, Dallas 75390-9070, USA.



Previous work has shown that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its receptor, tyrosine kinase receptor B (TrkB), are involved in appetitive behavior. Here we show that BDNF in the ventral tegmental area-nucleus accumbens (VTA-NAc) pathway is also involved in the development of a depression-like phenotype.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor signaling in the VTA-NAc pathway was altered in two complementary ways. One group of rats received intra-VTA infusion of vehicle or BDNF for 1 week. A second group of rats received intra-NAc injections of vehicle or adeno-associated viral vectors encoding full-length (TrkB.FL) or truncated (TrkB.T1) TrkB; the latter is kinase deficient and serves as a dominant-negative receptor. Rats were examined in the forced swim test and other behavioral tests.


Intra-VTA infusions of BDNF resulted in 57% shorter latency to immobility relative to control animals, a depression-like effect. Intra-NAc injections of TrkB.T1 resulted in and almost fivefold longer latency to immobility relative to TrkB.FL and control animals, an antidepressant-like effect. No effect on anxiety-like behaviors or locomotion was seen.


These data suggest that BDNF action in the VTA-NAc pathway might be related to development of a depression-like phenotype. This interpretation is intriguing in that it suggests a role for BDNF in the VTA-NAc that is opposite of the proposed role for BDNF in the hippocampus.

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