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Psychol Aging. 2014 Jun;29(2):384-92. doi: 10.1037/a0035201. Epub 2014 Mar 24.

The Val/Met polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene predicts decline in perceptual speed in older adults.

Author information

Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva.
Aging Research Center, Karolinska Institute.
Neuropsychiatric Genetics Group, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics.
Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Department of Psychology, Humboldt University.


The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) promotes activity-dependent synaptic plasticity, and contributes to learning and memory. We investigated whether a common Val66Met missense polymorphism (rs6265) of the BDNF gene is associated with individual differences in cognitive decline (marked by perceptual speed) in old age. A total of 376 participants of the Berlin Aging Study, with a mean age of 83.9 years at first occasion, were assessed longitudinally up to 11 times across more than 13 years on the Digit-Letter task. Met carriers (n = 123, 34%) showed steeper linear decline than Val homozygotes (n = 239, 66%); the corresponding contrast explained 2.20% of the variance in change in the entire sample, and 3.41% after excluding individuals at risk for dementia. These effects were not moderated by sex or socioeconomic status. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that normal aging magnifies the effects of common genetic variation on cognitive functioning.

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