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Behav Neurosci. 2012 Aug;126(4):505-14. doi: 10.1037/a0028600. Epub 2012 Jun 11.

A putative model of overeating and obesity based on brain-derived neurotrophic factor: direct and indirect effects.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Increased food intake is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in all age groups. Elucidating brain systems that drive overeating and that might serve as targets for novel prevention and treatment interventions is thus a high priority for obesity research. The authors consider 2 major pathways by which decreased activity of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may confer vulnerability to overeating and weight gain in an obesogenic environment. The first "direct" pathway focuses on the specific role of BDNF as a mediator of food intake control at brain areas rich in BDNF receptors, including the hypothalamus and hindbrain. It is proposed that low BDNF activity limited to this direct pathway may best explain overeating and obesity outside the context of major neuropsychiatric disturbance. A second "indirect" pathway considers the broad neurotrophic effects of BDNF on key monoamine systems that mediate mood dysregulation, impulsivity, and executive dysfunction as well as feeding behavior per se. Disruption in this pathway may best explain overeating and obesity in the context of various neuropsychiatric disturbances including mood disorders, attention-deficit disorder, and/or binge eating disorders. An integrative model that considers these potential roles of BDNF in promoting obesity is presented. The implications of this model for the early prevention and treatment of obesity are also considered.

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