BDNF gene polymorphism (Val66Met) predicts amygdala and anterior hippocampus responses to emotional faces in anxious and depressed adolescents

Jennifer Y.F. Lau, David Goldman, Beata Buzas, Colin Hodgkinson, Ellen Leibenluft, Eric Nelson, Lindsey Sankin, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A polymorphism of the human Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) gene that produces a valine-to-methionine substitution at codon 66 (Val66Met) is linked to adult anxiety and mood disorders, possibly through effects on brain circuitry function. Associations between BDNF gene variants and brain activity have not been explored in anxious and depressed adolescents. The current study investigated the association between BDNF genotype and amygdala-hippocampal responses to emotional stimuli in adolescents with anxiety disorders and/or major depressive disorder (MDD) and in healthy adolescents. Twenty-seven unmedicated patients with acutely-impairing current anxiety disorders and/or MDD and 31 healthy adolescents, matched on age, gender and IQ, rated their fear of fearful, angry, neutral and happy facial expressions during collection of fMRI data on the amygdala and hippocampus. Left and right amygdala and hippocampal responses were analyzed using repeated-measures analyses of variance models, with diagnosis (patients, healthy) and genotype (Met-carriers, Val/Val homozygotes) as between-group factors and facial expression (fearful, angry, neutral, happy) as a within-subject factor. Significant effects of diagnosis and diagnosis-by-genotype interactions (F's > 4, p's < 0.05) characterized activations in amygdala and anterior hippocampal regions. Greater activations in patients than healthy adolescents were found. Critically, these hyperactivations were modulated by BDNF genotype: Met-carriers showed greater neural responses of emotional faces than Val/Val homozygotes in patients only. These data are first to demonstrate the contribution of BDNF gene variants to the neural correlates of adolescent anxiety and depression. Early "gene-brain" linkages may lay the foundation for longer-term patterns of neural dysfunction in affective disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)952-961
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Anxiety
  • Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene
  • Depression
  • Development
  • FMRI
  • Medial temporal lobe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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