Cellular mechanisms of activity-dependent BDNF expression in primary sensory neurons

A. Vermehren-Schmaedick, R. A. Khanjian, A. Balkowiec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is abundantly expressed by both developing and adult rat visceral sensory neurons from the nodose ganglion (NG) in vivo and in vitro. We have previously shown that BDNF is released from neonatal NG neurons by activity and regulates dendritic development in their postsynaptic targets in the brainstem. The current study was carried out to examine the cellular and molecular mechanisms of activity-dependent BDNF expression in neonatal rat NG neurons, using our established in vitro model of neuronal activation by electrical field stimulation with patterns that mimic neuronal activity in vivo. We show that BDNF mRNA (transcript 4) increases over threefold in response to a 4-h tonic or bursting pattern delivered at the frequency of 6. Hz, which corresponds to the normal heart rate of a newborn rat. No significant increase in BDNF expression was observed following stimulation at 1. Hz. The latter effect suggests a frequency-dependent mechanism of regulated BDNF expression. In addition to BDNF transcript 4, which is known to be regulated by activity, transcript 1 also showed significant upregulation. The increases in BDNF mRNA were followed by BDNF protein upregulation of a similar magnitude after 24 h of stimulation at 6. Hz. Electrical stimulation-evoked BDNF expression was inhibited by pretreating neurons with the blocker of voltage-gated sodium channels tetrodotoxin and by removing extracellular calcium. Moreover, our data show that repetitive stimulation-evoked BDNF expression requires calcium influx through N-, but not L-type, channels. Together, our study reveals novel mechanisms through which electrical activity stimulates de novo synthesis of BDNF in sensory neurons, and points to the role of N-type calcium channels in regulating BDNF expression in sensory neurons in response to repetitive stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-673
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Dec 3 2015


  • Baroreceptor
  • Calcium channels
  • Electrical field stimulation
  • Nodose ganglion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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