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Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is an essential facilitator of neuronal plasticity. By counteracting the adverse effects of excessive stress-induced glucocorticoid signaling, BDNF has been implicated as a resilience factor to psychopathology caused by chronic stress. Insights into the effects of acute stress on peripheral BDNF levels in humans are inconclusive. The short-term interplay between BDNF and cortisol in response to acute psychosocial stress remains unexplored. Furthermore, it is unknown whether mental training that is effective at reducing cortisol reactivity can also influence BDNF during acute stress. In the current study, we investigated serum BDNF levels during an acute psychosocial stress paradigm, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), in 301 healthy participants (178 women, mean age = 40.65) recruited as part of the ReSource Project, a large-scale mental training study consisting of three distinct 3-month training modules. Using a cross-sectional study design, we first examined the relationship between BDNF and salivary cortisol in a control group with no mental training. Subsequent analyses focused on differences in BDNF stress levels between control and mental training groups. We show that serum BDNF is indeed stress-sensitive, characterized by a significant poststress increase and subsequent decline to recovery. While respective increases in BDNF and cortisol were not associated, we found two indications for an antagonistic relationship. Higher BDNF peaks after stress were associated with steeper cortisol recovery. On the other hand, the magnitude of the cortisol stress response was linked to steeper BDNF recovery after stress. BDNF levels were not modulated by any of the mental training modules. Providing novel evidence for the dynamics of BDNF and cortisol during acute stress, our findings may further inform research on the physiological mechanisms involved in stress chronification and the associated health risks.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology
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