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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2016, Article ID 9857201, 19 pages
Review Article

Spinal Plasticity and Behavior: BDNF-Induced Neuromodulation in Uninjured and Injured Spinal Cord

1Department of Physiology, Emory University School of Medicine, 615 Michael Street, Atlanta, GA 30307, USA
2Brain and Spinal Injury Center, University of California, San Francisco, 1001 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA

Received 27 April 2016; Revised 27 July 2016; Accepted 10 August 2016

Academic Editor: Michele Fornaro

Copyright © 2016 Sandra M. Garraway and J. Russell Huie. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a member of the neurotrophic factor family of signaling molecules. Since its discovery over three decades ago, BDNF has been identified as an important regulator of neuronal development, synaptic transmission, and cellular and synaptic plasticity and has been shown to function in the formation and maintenance of certain forms of memory. Neural plasticity that underlies learning and memory in the hippocampus shares distinct characteristics with spinal cord nociceptive plasticity. Research examining the role BDNF plays in spinal nociception and pain overwhelmingly suggests that BDNF promotes pronociceptive effects. BDNF induces synaptic facilitation and engages central sensitization-like mechanisms. Also, peripheral injury-induced neuropathic pain is often accompanied with increased spinal expression of BDNF. Research has extended to examine how spinal cord injury (SCI) influences BDNF plasticity and the effects BDNF has on sensory and motor functions after SCI. Functional recovery and adaptive plasticity after SCI are typically associated with upregulation of BDNF. Although neuropathic pain is a common consequence of SCI, the relation between BDNF and pain after SCI remains elusive. This article reviews recent literature and discusses the diverse actions of BDNF. We also highlight similarities and differences in BDNF-induced nociceptive plasticity in naïve and SCI conditions.