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Alcohol. 2012 May;46(3):253-9. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2011.12.001. Epub 2012 Feb 22.

Serum and plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in abstinent alcoholics and social drinkers.

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Yale Stress Center, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.


Although the effects of alcohol on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have been extensively studied in rodents, BDNF levels have rarely been measured in abstinent, alcohol-dependent (AD) individuals. Interpretation of reported group comparisons of serum BDNF levels is difficult due to limited information regarding analytical variance, biological variability, and the relative contribution of platelet and plasma pools to serum BDNF. Analytical variance (intra- and inter-assay coefficients of variation) of the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was characterized. Within- and between-subject variability, and group differences in serum and plasma BDNF, was assessed on three separate days in 16, 4-week abstinent AD individuals (7M/9F) and 16 social drinkers (SDs; 8M/8F). Significantly higher mean (±sd) serum BDNF levels were observed for the AD group compared to the SD (p = 0.003). No significant difference in mean baseline plasma BDNF levels was observed between AD and SD groups. The low analytical variance, high day-to-day within-individual stability and the high degree of individuality demonstrates the potential clinical utility of measuring serum BDNF levels. The low correlations that we observed between plasma and serum levels are congruent with their representing separate pools of BDNF. The observation of higher basal serum BDNF in the AD group without a concomitant elevation in plasma BDNF levels indicates that the elevated serum BDNF in AD patients is not due to greater BDNF exposure. Further research is warranted to fully elucidate mechanisms underlying this alteration and determine the utility of serum BDNF as a predictor or surrogate marker of chronic alcohol abuse.

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