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Ann Neurosci. 2014 Oct;21(4):129-33. doi: 10.5214/ans.0972.7531.210403.

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Author information

Department of Biochemistry;
Department of Virology;
Haffkine Institute and Director- MILS International India, Mumbai.



Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobehavioral syndrome with no known biomarker so far for early detection. It has been challenging, both to classify typical autism and associate a suitable biomarker with clinical phenotype spectrum. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has emerged as a key neurotrophin regulating synaptic plasticity, neuronal differentiation and survival.


Recently, BDNF depletion is reported in neurodegenerative as well as in psychiatric disorders, associated with severity of neurological dysfunction. Role of BDNF as a biomarker in ASD is gaining significance. Pre-clinical results have linked BDNF depletion in autism and mental retardation, however, with conflicting findings.


In view of this, a preliminary study was carried out to measure serum BDNF levels in 48 children with ASD and mental retardation, and 29 age-matched controls.


Serum BDNF levels were found significantly higher (p<0.001) in atypical autistic subjects (clinically milder phenotype) as compared to controls, but not in typical ASD cases (clinically severe phenotype). BDNF levels were significantly lower in females with typical/Rett Syndrome (p<0.05), but not in males with typical autism (p>0.1), as compared to controls. Lower BDNF levels indicate impairment in neuroprotective mechanism, while higher levels may imply a manifested protective response.


Our study highlights the differential BDNF response based on the severity of neurobehavioral deficit, indicating a possible neuroprotective role of this molecule and supporting its exploration in targeted therapy in ASD.


BDNF; Biomarker; Disorder

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