Summary of BDNF
The BDNF gene codes for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). A neurotrophic factor is a compound that supports the growth and development of brain cells (neurons).
BDNF is one of the main factors responsible for making new neurons (neurogenesis). It also helps existing neurons develop new connections with other neurons, or adjust their existing connections (synaptic plasticity) [R, R, R].
To learn more about BDNF, check out these SelfHacked posts:
Recommended name:Brain-derived neurotrophic factor
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Top Gene-Substance Interactions
BDNF Interacts with These Diseases
Lifestyle to Increase BDNF:
Sleep. In rats, chronic sleep deprivation led to increased IL-1b and TNF and reduced BDNF (R)
Sun. In an analysis of 2,851 individuals in the Netherlands, it was found that blood BDNF increased in the spring and summer and decreased in the fall and winter. BDNF levels correlated to the number of hours a person was exposed to sunshine. (R)
Exercise. Exercise is certainly one of the best way to boost BDNF levels. (R, R2) In sedentary male college students, high intensity exercise boosted both the BDNF levels and memories. (R) The changes in BDNF levels were found in nerve cells within days after exercise in both male and female rats and were sustained even several weeks after exercise. (R)
In rats, low intensity is actually better than high intensity at increasing BDNF. (R) This accords with evidence in normal rats that show low intensity exercise can improve synaptic plasticity better than high intensity exercise. (R)
Cold and Heat (Sauna). In chicks, cold or heat exposure increased BDNF. (R, R2) I have an Infrared Sauna and then take a cold shower. I also expose myself to cold often. I also have many cold devices such as an Ice Helmet/Cryohelmet and even an ice vest.
Calorie Restriction (R) -in rodents, but not in humans in this study. Intermittent Fasting. Alternate-day fasting, with a single meal of about 600 calories on the fast day, can boost the production of BDNF by 50 to 400 percent, depending on the brain region. (R, R2, R3)
Cognitive Stimulation. A highly stimulating early social environment in animals increases BDNF. (R) In mice, the level of exploratory behavior induces BDNF (R)- in humans this would equate to mental and physical stimulation or novelty. When you learn things or challenge your brain, the brain increases BDNF because of its important role in memory. (R)
Diet/Foods to Increase BDNF:
- Ketogenic Diet (R)
- Stay away from SAD diet - stay away from a high sugar and high saturated fat diet i.e. SAD diet...(R)
- Fish or Fish oil (R, R2),
- Hi-maize/Resistant starch - converts to butyrate, which causes an increase in BDNF (R)
- Honey: FOS, GOS (Prebiotics)(R)...
- Blueberries (R),
- Cocoa (flavanoids) (R),
- Soy - Both estradiol and soy phytoestrogens significantly increased BDNF in the frontal cortex of female rats. (R)
- High salt intake (R)
Hormones/Neurotransmitters to Increase BDNF
Devices to Increase BDNF
I use all of the linked devices.
Supplements to Increase BDNF
I've taken all of the linked supplements...
- Butyrate (R)
- Quercetin (R) and kaempferol
- Caffeine (R)
- Curcumin (R)
- Niacin (R)
- Magnesium (R) (in prefrontal cortex, hippocampus)
- Magnesium Lactate - Researchers injected people with lactate and found BDNF levels rose after. (R)
- Inosine (R),
- L Plantarum (R),
- Gynostemma (R),
- EGCG (R),
- Olive leaf (R),
- NAC (R)
- Theanine (R) (unrelated, but did you know it's a NMDA agonist?),
- Rhodiola/Salidroside (R)
- Resveratrol (R)
- Rehmannia (R),
- Ginseng - When pretreated orally, GRb1 significantly inhibited the stress-mediated decline of BDNF level whereas it further increased the stress-mediated elevation of HSP70 level. (R)
- Baicalin (R)
- Bacopa - In rats, bacopa increased BDNF when the animals were exposed to chronic unpredictable stress. (R)
Drugs to Increase BDNF
I am not recommending the usage of these, just listing them for informational purposes. Some of them can be beneficial if used in the right way.
- Semax (ACTH analogue) (R),
- Citalopram (Celexa, SSRI) (R)
- Tianeptine (Tricyclic) (R, R2)
- LSD (R)
- Ketamine (R)
- Cocaine (R) - not necessarily good because it increases in the reward regions (mesolimbic pathway), which probably causes addiction...complex...I don't recommend anyone take cocaine.
- MDMA (R) - increases in some areas, decreases in others...Increases in response to damage...
Sleep Deprivation. Sleep deprivation means staying up all night and this can be used to jumpstart BDNF. In one study, they use it for this purpose with the anti-depressant Sertraline (Zoloft).
The first single sleep deprivation and a series of three subsequent sleep deprivations accelerated the treatment response that significantly decreased depression and increased BDNF levels. (R)
Steve Jobs used to practice this. I don't like it. Chew your food! A liquid diet in mice actually results in higher BDNF in the hippocampus, but lower levels of another 'downstream' protein that BDNF is supposed to increase.
Think of BDNF as being the first domino, but for some reason later down the line, there's less of another domino. If you're missing a domino at the end, it doesn't matter how much of the first domino you have, because it's the later domino (TrKB) that controls your genes.
The findings suggest that reduced chewing induced by a liquid diet in early childhood may impair memory and learning abilities, accompanied by a neuronal loss in the hippocampus. (R) This is why if I have mostly a liquid diet, I make sure to chew Gum.
Substances That Increase BDNF
Substances That Decrease BDNF
BDNF helps to support the survival of existing neurons and encourages the growth, regeneration and creation of new neurons and synapses. (R) It's important to realize that BDNF levels can be different in different places. So you have blood BDNF levels, CSF BDNF levels and BDNF levels in various brain locations.
However, a different study says that BDNF in the blood is thought to be a reliable and sensitive marker of its variations occurring in the brain (Lommatzsch et al. 2005) (R). Since BDNF can cross the brain barrier, it would make sense. (R)
BDNF and Weight
BDNF increases energy metabolism in obese diabetic animals, partly through activating the stress response and inducing UCP1 “ an uncoupling protein that creates brown fat, which is easily burned for fuel. (R) In healthy humans, the fatter people are, the lower their blood BDNF . (R)
Lower BDNF could be a cause, a side effect of being overweight or related to a factor that decreases both weight and increases BDNF -sleeping more, eating less, etcBut it definitely seems like more BDNF is causing people to weigh less.
Increasing BDNF can potentially help a number of devastating brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, and Huntington's Disease (HD). (R) Decreased levels of blood BDNF have been found in underweight women with anorexia. (R)
BDNF, in turn, is the signaling molecule that causes an increase in slow wave sleep. (R, R2) So the more stimulated or sleep-deprived you are, the more you need slow wave sleep, and the molecular link is BDNF .
BDNF and Wellness
When BDNF levels are high, acquiring new knowledge is easier, memories are retained, and people feel happier. So BDNF can even be thought of as a natural anti-depressant (R), and when levels fall depression can ensue (R).
Low BDNF could be one of the many possible links between depression and heart disease. (R)
Studies have shown that brain size is correlated with lifespan and BDNF may be that link, since it increases insulin sensitivity. (R) BDNF causes blood pressure to increase, which is perhaps the most significant risk factor for heart disease. When BDNF is injected in the rostral ventrolateral medulla (mice), blood pressure increases. (R)
BDNF overexpression in the paraventricular nucleus (rats) increases blood pressure via angiotensin type-1 receptor-mediated mechanisms. (R)
Indeed, people who are genetically lower BDNF producers have lower systolic blood pressure. (R) One of the mechanisms by which salt increases blood pressure is by increasing vasopressin, which is mediated by an increase in BDNF . (R)
BDNF and The Circadian Rhythm
When light hits your retina, it gets transmitted to your hypothalamus and in a particular suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This causes the SCN neurons to fire, via the neurotransmitter glutamate .
The SCN is the central clock and is the conductor of your circadian rhythm. When the SCN fires, that's when the circadian rhythm starts and you wake up.
BDNF can enhance glutamate neurotransmission in SCN neurons and potentiates glutamate-induced shifts of the circadian rhythm. (R) BDNF secreted at night is probably required for light-induced shifts in the circadian rhythm (R).
In mice, BDNF injection during 4PM caused the circadian rhythm to be pushed off by 2.3 hours (so if you wake up at 8AM, you wake up at ~10AM). BDNF treatment during 10PM caused the circadian rhythm to be pushed back 2.3 hours (so if you wake up at 8AM, you would wake up at ~6AM).
No phase shift occurred when BDNF was applied during the day at 7AM. BDNF-induced circadian shifts were dependent on Glutamate/NMDA receptor stimulation of the SCN. (R) So it's quite plausible to say that if you've got low BDNF, it could be harder to set your circadian rhythm.
BDNF, Socializing, and Love
BDNF blood levels were correlated with romantic attachment, but only in women. The higher the BDNF, the lower women scored on an avoidance test (ie, they were more friendly and likely to form bonds). (R) So BDNF may play a role in promoting social relationships through a specific decrease of avoidance and fear of the stranger and unfamiliar individuals. (R)
Conditions with Increased Gene Activity
|Condition||Change (log2fold)||Comparison||Species||Experimental variables||Experiment name|
Conditions with Decreased Gene Activity
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The following transcription factors affect gene expression:
Brain. Highly expressed in hippocampus, amygdala, cerebral cortex and cerebellum. Also expressed in heart, lung, skeletal muscle, testis, prostate and placenta.
- Axon Guidance
- Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptor Signaling Pathway
- Cell-Cell Signaling
- Collateral Sprouting
- Negative Regulation Of Neuron Apoptotic Process
- Nervous System Development
- Positive Regulation Of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptor Signaling Pathway
- Positive Regulation Of Collateral Sprouting
- Positive Regulation Of Synapse Assembly
- Synapse Assembly