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J Neurosci. 2014 Apr 23;34(17):5874-81. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2152-13.2014.

Valence-specific effects of BDNF Val66Met polymorphism on dopaminergic stress and reward processing in humans.

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Department of Psychiatry and Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, Department of Radiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, Research Institute on Health Sciences-Institut Universitari d'Investigació en Ciencies de la Salut (IUNICS), Palma de Mallorca 07122, Spain, College of Dental Medicine, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, and National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Rockville, Maryland 20852.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in dopaminergic (DA) cells within the ventral tegmental area (VTA)/nucleus accumbens (NAc) circuitry appear to be a candidate mechanism for the neuroadaptive changes that follow stress and reward responses in animal models. However, the role of the BDNF gene variants in responses to salient cues through DA neurotransmission in humans remains unexplored. Here, we studied the effect of the common functional BDNF Val(66)Met (rs6265) polymorphism on rewarding experiences in the striatum and DA-mediated responses to stress. Seventy-two healthy controls were genotyped for the BDNF Val(66)Met polymorphism and underwent the monetary incentive delay task during an functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session. Forty-nine of them also underwent a sustained pain challenge with and without placebo administration with potential analgesic properties during PET measures of DA D2/3-receptor-mediated neurotransmission. Neuroimaging results revealed a significant effect of BDNF (Met(66) carriers > Val/Val) on brain responses during the anticipation of monetary losses, baseline D2/3 receptor availability, and pain-stress-induced DA release in the NAc. Conversely, BDNF Met(66) carriers showed no activation in response to monetary gains and a blunted DA response to the analgesic placebo in the NAc. These results provide initial human evidence regarding the effect of the BDNF Val(66)Met polymorphism on DA-mediated responses to stress, its cognitive regulation by positive expectations, and the anticipatory responses to monetary gains and losses in the VTA-NAc pathway. Our results are of relevance to the neurobiology of stress and reward interactions and the pathophysiology of stress-related disorders.


BDNF Val66Met; dopamine; nucleus accumbens; pain; reward; stress

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