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The primary sensory neurons that respond to noxious stimulation and project to the spinal cord are known to fall into two distinct groups: one sensitive to nerve growth factor and the other sensitive to glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor. There is currently considerable interest in the ways in which these factors may regulate nociceptor properties. Recently, however, it has emerged that another trophic factor-brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-may play an important neuromodulatory role in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. BDNF meets many of the criteria necessary to establish it as a neurotransmitter/neuromodulator in small-diameter nociceptive neurons. It is synthesized by these neurons and packaged in dense core vesicles in nociceptor terminals in the superficial dorsal horn. It is markedly up-regulated in inflammatory conditions in a nerve growth factor-dependent fashion. Postsynaptic cells in this region express receptors for BDNF. Spinal neurons show increased excitability to nociceptive inputs after treatment with exogenous BDNF. There are both electrophysiological and behavioral data showing that antagonism of BDNF at least partially prevents some aspects of central sensitization. Together, these findings suggest that BDNF may be released from primary sensory nociceptors with activity, particularly in some persistent pain states, and may then increase the excitability of rostrally projecting second-order systems. BDNF released from nociceptive terminals may thus contribute to the sensory abnormalities associated with some pathophysiological states, notably inflammatory conditions.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





7714 - 7718


Animals, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Humans, Models, Neurological, Neurons, Afferent, Nociceptors, Pain, Spinal Cord