Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), one of the major neurotrophic factors, plays an important role in the maintenance and survival of neurons, synaptic integrity, and synaptic plasticity. Evidence suggests that BDNF is involved in major depression, such that the level of BDNF is decreased in depressed patients and that antidepressants reverse this decrease. Stress, a major factor in depression, also modulates BDNF expression. These studies have led to the proposal of the neurotrophin hypothesis of depression. Late-life depression is associated with disturbances in structural and neural plasticity as well as impairments in cognitive behavior. Stress and aging also play a crucial role in late-life depression. Many recent studies have suggested that not only expression of BDNF is decreased in the serum/plasma of patients with late-life depression, but structural abnormalities in the brain of these patients may be associated with a polymorphism in the BDNF gene, and that there is a relationship between a BDNF polymorphism and antidepressant remission rates. This review provides a critical review of the involvement of BDNF in major depression, in general, and in late-life depression, in particular.
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