BDNF Is Potential Biomarker For Autism Spectrum Disorder Interview with:

Dr. Yong Cheng, PhD Postdoctoral Fellow NIH

Dr. Yong Cheng

Dr. Yong Cheng, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
NIH What is the background for this study?

Response: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders which affect about 1 in 68 children in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is an important moderator in neurodevelopment and neuroplasticity, and studies have suggested the involvement of BDNF in ASD. Although some clinical studies show abnormal expression of BDNF in children with ASD, findings have been inconsistent. Therefore, we undertook a systematic review of the scientific literature, using a meta-analysis to quantitatively summarize clinical data on blood BDNF levels in children with ASD, compared with healthy peers. What are the main findings?

Response: The meta-analysis included 19 studies with 2896 participants and showed that children with  autism spectrum disorder had increased blood BDNF levels compared with healthy peers, and this increase was statistically significant. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our analysis suggests a change in an important growth factor in children with ASD. This may explain some of the pathophysiologic features of ASD, such as the early  autism spectrum disorder overgrowth in some ASD children. However, more research is needed to expand upon these findings. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future preclinical and clinical studies are needed to elucidate how the altered expression of BDNF affects the abnormal neurodevelopment in children with  autism spectrum disorder, and to investigate whether BDNF is a good target for treatment of ASD. In addition, population-based longitudinal studies may answer whether or not BDNF can serve as a biomarker for early diagnosis of ASD. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Our study also suggests that BDNF levels in children with ASD may be affected by age. In fact, our analysis indicates that neonates who are diagnosed with  autism spectrum disorder later in life had blood BDNF levels similar to healthy peers, whereas children with ASD had elevated levels of BDNF after diagnosis, with newly diagnosed ASD children (4 to 5 years old) had particular higher BDNF levels. Thus, researchers who study BDNF in children need to account for possible age-related differences in their future work. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Qin X, Feng J, Cao C, Wu H, Loh Y, Cheng Y. Association of Peripheral Blood Levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. Published online September 19, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.1626

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Last Updated on September 22, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD