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Exploring the Impact of Modifiable Factors on Serum BDNF in Psychiatric Patients and Community Controls

Authors Chan G, Rosic T, Pasyk S, Dehghan M, Samaan Z

Received 4 December 2020

Accepted for publication 21 January 2021

Published 17 February 2021 Volume 2021:17 Pages 545—554


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder

Galen Chan,1 Tea Rosic,2,3 Stanislav Pasyk,2 Mahshid Dehghan,4 Zainab Samaan2,3

1Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; 2Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; 3Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada; 4Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence: Zainab Samaan Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences
McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Tel +1 905 522 1155 ext. 39215
Fax +1 905 528 2814

Background: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been a focus of psychiatric research for the past two decades. BDNF has been shown to impact neural function and development. Studies have investigated serum BDNF as a biomarker for psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. In some studies, investigators attempt to control for variables such as smoking status, exercise, or diet. However, the relationship between these factors and BDNF is not clearly established. Furthermore, some studies have questioned whether a difference in the impact of BDNF exists between psychiatric and healthy populations.
Purpose: We aim to examine the association between serum BDNF levels and modifiable risk factors such as body mass index (BMI), smoking, exercise levels, and diet. Subsequently, we aim to examine whether the relationship between these risk factors and serum BDNF is different between psychiatric and control populations.
Patients and Methods: We use cross-sectional data from an age- and sex-matched case–control study of participants with psychiatric inpatients and community controls without psychiatric diagnoses. Participants completed comprehensive assessments at study enrolment including sociodemographic information, smoking status, exercise, diet, and BMI. Serum BDNF levels were collected from participants. Linear regression analysis was performed to determine the association between modifiable factors and serum BDNF level.
Results: A significant association was found between sedentary activity level and lower serum BDNF levels (Beta coefficient = – 2.49, 95% confidence interval [CI] – 4.70, – 0.28, = 0.028). Subgroup analysis demonstrated that this association held for psychiatric inpatients but not for community controls; it also held in females (Beta coefficient = – 3.18, 95% CI – 6.29, – 0.07, = 0.045) but not in males (Beta coefficient = – 1.42, 95% CI – 4.61, 1.78, = 0.383). Antidepressant use had a significantly different association between male (Beta coefficient = 3.20, 95% CI 0.51, 5.88, = 0.020) and female subgroups (Beta coefficient = – 3.10, 95% CI – 5.75, – 0.46, = 0.022). No significant association was found between other factors and serum BDNF.
Conclusion: Sedentary activity level may lead to lower serum BDNF levels in individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. Our findings support the notion that physical activity can provide a positive impact as part of treatment for psychiatric illness.

Keywords: BDNF, psychiatric disorders, physical activity, diet, behavioral risk factors, depression

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