Brain-derived neurotrophic factor promotes adaptive plasticity within the spinal cord and mediates the beneficial effects of controllable stimulation. Academic Article uri icon


  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been characterized as a potent modulator of neural plasticity in both the brain and spinal cord. The present experiments use an in vivo model system to demonstrate that training with controllable stimulation increases spinal BDNF expression and engages a BDNF-dependent process that promotes adaptive plasticity. Spinally transected rats administered legshock whenever one hind limb is extended (controllable stimulation) exhibit a progressive increase in flexion duration. This simple form of response-outcome (instrumental) learning is not observed when shock is given independent of leg position (uncontrollable stimulation). Uncontrollable electrical stimulation also induces a lasting effect that impairs learning for up to 48 h. Training with controllable shock can counter the adverse consequences of uncontrollable stimulation, to both prevent and reverse the learning deficit. Here it is shown that the protective and restorative effect of instrumental training depends on BDNF. Cellular assays showed that controllable stimulation increased BDNF mRNA expression and protein within the lumbar spinal cord. These changes were associated with an increase in the BDNF receptor TrkB protein within the dorsal horn. Evidence is then presented that these changes play a functional role in vivo. Application of a BDNF inhibitor (TrkB-IgG) blocked the protective effect of instrumental training. Direct (intrathecal) application of BDNF substituted for instrumental training to block both the induction and expression of the learning deficit. Uncontrollable stimulation also induced an increase in mechanical reactivity (allodynia), and this too was prevented by BDNF. TrkB-IgG blocked the restorative effect of instrumental training and intrathecal BDNF substituted for training to reverse the deficit. Taken together, these findings outline a critical role for BDNF in mediating the beneficial effects of controllable stimulation on spinal plasticity.

published proceedings

  • Neuroscience

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Huie, J. R., Garraway, S. M., Baumbauer, K. M., Hoy, K. C., Beas, B. S., Montgomery, K. S., Bizon, J. L., & Grau, J. W

citation count

  • 47

complete list of authors

  • Huie, JR||Garraway, SM||Baumbauer, KM||Hoy, KC||Beas, BS||Montgomery, KS||Bizon, JL||Grau, JW

publication date

  • January 2012