There is emerging evidence that supports a role for brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the risk and presence of serious cardiovascular conditions. However, few existing literature reviews methodically describe empirical findings regarding this relationship.
The purpose of this integrative review was to (a) evaluate BDNF (serum/plasma BDNF levels, BDNF Val66Met genotype) among humans at risk for or with serious cardiovascular conditions and (b) investigate the relationship between BDNF and risk/presence of serious cardiovascular conditions in humans.
An integrative review was conducted. Articles in English included human subjects, a measure of BDNF levels or BDNF gene, serious cardiovascular conditions, and quantitative data analyses. The search resulted in 475 unique titles, with the final sample including 35 articles representing 30 studies. Articles that received “good” or “fair” ratings (n = 31) using the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Study Quality Assessment Tools were included for synthesis.
The retrieved articles were largely nonexperimental, with sample sizes ranging from 20 to 5,510 participants. Overall, BDNF levels were lower in patients with chronic heart failure and stroke, but higher in patients with unstable angina and recent myocardial infarction. Lower BDNF levels were associated with higher incidence of cardiovascular events in patients with a prior history of serious cardiovascular conditions and decreased cardiovascular risk in healthy samples. For BDNF genotype, on average, 36.3% of participants had Met alleles. The frequency of the BDNF Met allele varied across race/ethnicity and cardiovascular conditions and in terms of association with serious cardiovascular condition incidence/risk.
These findings indicate an emerging area of science. Future investigation is needed on serious cardiovascular condition phenotypes in relationship to BDNF in the same study conditions. Results also suggest for use of standardized BDNF measurement across studies and additional investigation in cardiovascular inflammatory processes that affect BDNF. Moreover, within specific populations, the frequency of Met alleles may be too low to be detected in sample sizes normally found in these types of studies.