BDNF and learning: Evidence that instrumental training promotes learning within the spinal cord by up-regulating BDNF expression. Academic Article uri icon


  • We have previously shown that the spinal cord is capable of learning a sensorimotor task in the absence of supraspinal input. Given the action of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) on hippocampal learning, the current studies examined the role of BDNF in spinal learning. BDNF is a strong synaptic facilitator and, in association with other molecular signals (e.g. cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB), calcium/calmodulin activated protein kinase II (CaMKII) and synapsin I), important for learning. Spinally transected rats given shock to one hind leg when the leg extended beyond a selected threshold exhibited a progressive increase in flexion duration that minimized shock exposure, a simple form of instrumental learning. Instrumental learning resulted in elevated mRNA levels of BDNF, CaMKII, CREB, and synapsin I in the lumbar spinal cord region. The increases in BDNF, CREB, and CaMKII were proportional to the learning performance. Prior work has shown that instrumental training facilitates learning when subjects are tested on the contralateral leg with a higher response criterion. Pretreatment with the BDNF inhibitor TrkB-IgG blocked this facilitatory effect, as did the CaMKII inhibitor AIP. Intrathecal administration of BDNF facilitated learning when subjects were tested with a high response criterion. The findings indicate that instrumental training enables learning and elevates BDNF mRNA levels within the lumbar spinal cord. BDNF is both necessary, and sufficient, to produce the enabling effect.

published proceedings

  • Neuroscience

author list (cited authors)

  • Gmez-Pinilla, F., Huie, J. R., Ying, Z., Ferguson, A. R., Crown, E. D., Baumbauer, K. M., Edgerton, V. R., & Grau, J. W.

complete list of authors

  • G√≥mez-Pinilla, F||Huie, JR||Ying, Z||Ferguson, AR||Crown, ED||Baumbauer, KM||Edgerton, VR||Grau, JW

publication date

  • January 1, 2007 11:11 AM