BDNF at the synapse: why location matters

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Neurotrophic factors, a family of secreted proteins that support the growth, survival and differentiation of neurons, have been intensively studied for decades due to the powerful and diverse effects on neuronal physiology, as well as their therapeutic potential. Such efforts have led to a detailed understanding on the molecular mechanisms of neurotrophic factor signaling. One member, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has drawn much attention due to its pleiotropic roles in the central nervous system and implications in various brain disorders. In addition, recent advances linking the rapid-acting antidepressant, ketamine, to BDNF translation and BDNF-dependent signaling, has re-emphasized the importance of understanding the precise details of BDNF biology at the synapse. Although substantial knowledge related to the genetic, epigenetic, cell biological and biochemical aspects of BDNF biology has now been established, certain aspects related to the precise localization and release of BDNF at the synapse have remained obscure. A recent series of genetic and cell biological studies have shed light on the question—the site of BDNF release at the synapse. In this Perspectives article, these new insights will be placed in the context of previously unresolved issues related to BDNF biology, as well as how BDNF may function as a downstream mediator of newer pharmacological agents currently under investigation for treating psychiatric disorders.

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