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J Neurosci. 1986 Oct;6(10):3031-8.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor supports the survival of cultured rat retinal ganglion cells.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a small, basic protein purified from the mammalian brain that has been shown previously to support the survival of cultured spinal sensory neurons (Barde et al., 1982). In current studies, BDNF was tested for its ability to support the survival of cultured CNS cells isolated from the perinatal rat retina. Both immunofluorescent labeling of Thy-1 and prior retrograde labeling with HRP were used as retinal ganglion cell markers in vitro. With embryonic day (E) 17 retinas, it was found that BDNF allowed the survival of a small subpopulation of neurons (about 7% of the cells plated at this age) identified by the immunofluorescent labeling of Thy-1. No detectable effects were seen when either the total number of cells or the number of tetanus toxin-positive neurons was measured. BDNF also had an effect on cultured neurons retrogradely labeled after HRP injections in the superior colliculi of neonatal rats. The BDNF-responsive population was therefore detected only in retinal cultures with specific markers and identified as consisting of retinal ganglion cells. These cells could be enriched about 80-fold by density gradient centrifugation, and purified ganglion cell cultures were shown to be responsive to BDNF. Whereas with E17 retinas, the number of surviving Thy-1 positive neurons could be kept constant for at least 4 d, the survival of postnatal neurons was only transiently increased by BDNF. We conclude that in the retina, BDNF affects only the survival of ganglion cells in vitro by a direct action on these cells. The results are discussed in terms of target-derived neurotrophic support during development.

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