, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 1–11 | Cite as

BDNF: a regulator of learning and memory processes with clinical potential

  • T. BrigadskiEmail author
  • V. LeßmannEmail author
Review article


Memories are believed to be represented by facilitated synaptic transmission of electrical signals in neuronal networks. The ability to acquire new memories or to change old memory content results from the plastic properties of the brain. Molecular changes in synaptic plasticity of neuronal networks are considered to be the cellular correlates of learning and memory, and the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in these processes. This neurotrophic factor coordinates a multitude of biological functions. In addition to its role in neuronal plasticity processes, such as long-term potentiation of synaptic transmission, the protein regulates the differentiation of neuronal precursor cells, synaptogenesis, and neuronal survival. Cellular processes like BDNF protein processing, anterograde and retrograde transport, as well as exocytosis and endocytosis of BDNF vesicles are necessary to enable the protein to fulfill its neuroprotective and plasticity-related functions in its target areas. Therefore, deficits in one of these functions, resulting in a reduction or a lack of BDNF supply, can result in dysfunctional or reduced synaptic plasticity in virtually every brain area. Since cognitive processes and mental health require the intact formation and modification of memory traces, a change in BDNF turnover is considered as a contributing factor to a number of neurodegenerative and psychological disorders. This review summarizes the current knowledge regarding the connection between BDNF, its role in synaptic plasticity and its role in brain.


Long-term potentiation Brain-derived neurotophic factor Synaptic plasticity Neurotrophins Learning and memory BDNF secretion 



The authors thank Petra Lichtenecker for the secretion data in Fig. 3 as well as Elke Edelmann and Thomas Endres (all members of the Institute of Physiology in Magdeburg) for a number of discussions, which have essentially contributed to the contents of this review article. The English translation of this article was kindly provided by Petra Lichtenecker and Angela M. Cole.

Our work is supported by the DFG (SFB 779, TP B6; LE 1020/2-1), the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, as well as the “Europäischer Fond für regionale Entwicklung” (EFRE—Projekt: Center of Behavioral Brain Sciences (CBBS)).

Compliance with ethical guidelines

Conflict of interest. T. Brigadski and Leßmann state that there are no conflicts of interest.

The accompanying manuscript does not include studies on humans or animals.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of PhysiologyMedical Faculty, Otto-von-Guericke UniversityMagdeburgGermany
  2. 2.Center for Behavioral Brain SciencesMagdeburgGermany

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