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Open Access Research article

Plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels, learning capacity and cognition in patients with first episode psychosis

Sonia Ruiz de Azua1, Carlos Matute2, Laura Stertz23, Fernando Mosquera1, Aitor Palomino2, Iris de la Rosa1, Sara Barbeito1, Patricia Vega1, Flávio Kapczinski3 and Ana González-Pinto1*

Author Affiliations

1 CIBERSAM (Biomedical Research Center in Mental Health Net), University Hospital of Alava, University of the Basque Country, 29 Olaguibel St, 01004, Vitoria, Spain

2 CIBERNED. Neuroscience Department and Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience, University of the Basque 514 Country, 48940, Vizcaya, Spain

3 Bipolar Disorders Program & INCT Translational Medicine, Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, 2350 Ramiro Barcelos St, 90035-003, Porto Alegre, Brazil

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:27  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-27

Published: 15 January 2013



Cognitive impairments are seen in first psychotic episode (FEP) patients. The neurobiological underpinnings that might underlie these changes remain unknown. The aim of this study is to investigate whether Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) levels are associated with cognitive impairment in FEP patients compared with healthy controls.


45 FEP patients and 45 healthy controls matched by age, gender and educational level were selected from the Basque Country area of Spain. Plasma BDNF levels were assessed in healthy controls and in patients. A battery of cognitive tests was applied to both groups, with the patients being assessed at 6 months after the acute episode and only in those with a clinical response to treatment.


Plasma BDNF levels were altered in patients compared with the control group. In FEP patients, we observed a positive association between BDNF levels at six months and five cognitive domains (learning ability, immediate and delayed memory, abstract thinking and processing speed) which persisted after controlling for medications prescribed, drug use, intelligence quotient (IQ) and negative symptoms. In the healthy control group, BDNF levels were not associated with cognitive test scores.


Our results suggest that BDNF is associated with the cognitive impairment seen after a FEP. Further investigations of the role of this neurotrophin in the symptoms associated with psychosis onset are warranted.

Psychotic disorder; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; Schizophrenia; Cognition