BDNF levels are found to play an important role in learning, memory, and brain development. A new study has found that elevated BDNF levels are related to intellectual deficits, inattention and behavioural problems in preschool children. These findings can be a potentially useful biomarker for neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and intellectual disability in children.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a member of the neurotrophin family, is expressed in human and mammalian brains. BDNF plays an important role in brain development, is associated with plasticity in our brains, and influences neuronal survival. On top of these things, BDNF also plays an important role in our learning and memory. Currently, most research on the interrelationship between mood, psychosis, cognition, attention and BDNF concentration has focused on adults. There has been little investigation on these topics when focused on children, and that is the area a new study concentrates on.

Twenty-eight preschool children (13 males, 15 females) were recruited for the study, published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. For all subjects, BDNF levels were assessed alongside cognition, attention, intelligence (IQ), and behavioural problems. Results showed that BDNF levels did not statistically differ between the sex and age of the children.

It was discovered that BDNF levels were negatively correlated with verbal IQ, but not with performance IQ. In general, there were no significant relationships seen between BDNF levels and IQ. There were no correlations found between BDNF levels and any of the attentional measures. However, it was discovered that BDNF levels were positively correlated with total behavioural and attentional problems.

The results hold important implications for children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and intellectual disability, as it was found that BDNF might play a role in intelligence, attention and clinical symptoms of preschool children. It was concluded that elevated BDNF levels may reflect an abnormal state in prenatal or early postnatal development. Future studies should aim to include a greater number of participants, to increase statistical power.

It was concluded that a high BDNF concentration is related to intelligence, inattention, behavioral problems and clinical symptoms or neurodevelopmental disorders such as intellectual disability in preschool children. If these findings are further replicated, a high peripheral BDNF concentration may prove to be a useful biomarker for such issues in preschool children.




Written By: Rachel Berkovich, BSc

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