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Using immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization, we have examined the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and of neurotrophin receptors in dorsal root ganglion cells. In the adult rat, BDNF mRNA and protein were found mainly in the subpopulation of cells that express the nerve growth factor (NGF) receptor trkA and the neuropeptide calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). NGF increased BDNF within the trkA/CGRP cells to the extent that almost 90% of trkA cells contained BDNF mRNA after intrathecal NGF treatment, and 80-90% of BDNF-expressing cells contained trkA. Non-trkA cells that expressed BDNF included some trkC cells and some small cells that labeled with the lectin Griffonia simplicifolia IB4, a marker for cells that do not express trks. However, very few trkB cells expressed either BDNF mRNA or protein, and NGF did not increase BDNF expression in non-trkA cells. BDNF protein was anterogradely transported both peripherally and centrally. The central transport resulted in BDNF immunoreactivity in CGRP containing terminal arbors in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, and this immunoreactivity was increased by NGF treatment. Electron microscopic analysis revealed that the BDNF immunoreactivity was present in finely myelinated and unmyelinated axons and in axon terminals, where it was most concentrated over dense-cored vesicles. Our data do not support an autocrine or paracrine role for BDNF within normal dorsal root ganglia, but indicate that BDNF may act as an anterograde trophic messenger. NGF levels in the periphery could influence dorsal horn neurons via release of BDNF from primary afferents.


Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





8476 - 8490


Afferent Pathways, Animals, Axonal Transport, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide, Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect, Ganglia, Spinal, Gene Expression Regulation, In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence, Injections, Intraperitoneal, Injections, Spinal, Male, Microscopy, Electron, Nerve Growth Factors, Nerve Tissue Proteins, Proto-Oncogene Proteins, RNA, Messenger, Rats, Rats, Wistar, Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases, Receptor, Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor, Receptor, trkA, Receptor, trkC, Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor, Spinal Cord, Stimulation, Chemical