, Volume 235, Issue 4, pp 1191–1198 | Cite as

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a biomarker for cognitive recovery in acute schizophrenia: 12-week results from a prospective longitudinal study

  • Yi Zhang
  • Xinyu Fang
  • Weixing Fan
  • Wei Tang
  • Jun Cai
  • Lisheng Song
  • Chen Zhang
Original Investigation



It is generally accepted that impaired cognitive function is a core feature of schizophrenia. There is evidence for the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in cognitive function. Olanzapine was reported to yield cognitive improvement in patients with schizophrenia.


In this study, we performed a prospective, open-label, 12-week observation trial to investigate whether peripheral BDNF may represent a potential biomarker for the effect of cognitive improvement induced by olanzapine in patients with schizophrenia.


In total, 95 patients with acute schizophrenia were enrolled in the study. We also recruited 72 healthy individuals for a control group. The Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) was used to evaluate symptom severity and treatment response. Cognitive function was evaluated using the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS). Plasma BDNF levels were measured with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.


Of the 95 patients consented into the study, 68 completed the 12-week follow up. Our results showed that schizophrenia patients with acute exacerbation had significantly poorer performance than that of the controls (Ps < 0.01). A significantly decreased plasma level of BDNF in patients was observed compared with the controls (F = 7.77, P = 0.006). A significant improvement in each PANSS subscore and total score was observed when the patients completed this study (Ps < 0.01). Additionally, 12-week olanzapine treatment exhibited significant improvements in RBANS immediate memory, attention, and total scores (P = 0.018, 0.001, and 0.007, respectively). Along with the clinical improvement, plasma BDNF levels after 12-week olanzapine monotherapy (4.67 ± 1.74 ng/ml) were also significantly increased compared with those at baseline (3.38 ± 2.11 ng/ml) (P < 0.01). Spearman’s correlation analysis showed that the increase in plasma levels of BDNF is significantly correlated with the change in the RBANS total scores (r = 0.28, P = 0.02) but not with the change in the PANSS total scores (r = − 0.18, P = 0.13). There is a significant correlation of BDNF increase with the change of RBANS attention subscore (r = 0.27, P = 0.028).


Our findings suggest that olanzapine improves psychiatric symptoms and cognitive dysfunction, particularly attention and immediate memory, in patients with acute schizophrenia, in parallel with increased plasma BDNF levels. Plasma BDNF levels may be a potential biomarker for cognitive recovery in acute schizophrenia.


Olanzapine Cognitive function Brain-derived neurotrophic factor Biomarker Schizophrenia 



We are deeply grateful to all participants.

Funding information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81471358 and 81671326), the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission Foundation (14411969000), the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission—Gaofeng Clinical Medicine Grant Support (20152530), the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning Foundation (201540029), and the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning, Key Developing Disciplines (2015ZB0405).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Schizophrenia Program, Shanghai Mental Health CenterShanghai Jiao Tong University School of MedicineShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryJinhua Second HospitalJinhuaChina
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry, Wenzhou Kangning HospitalWenzhou Medical UniversityWenzhouChina

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