BDNF levels in adolescent patients with anorexia nervosa increase continuously to supranormal levels 2.5 years after first hospitalization

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Britta Borsdorf - , RWTH Aachen University (Author)
  • Brigitte Dahmen - , RWTH Aachen University (Author)
  • Katharina Buehren - , RWTH Aachen University, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Author)
  • Astrid Dempfle - , Kiel University (Author)
  • Karin Egberts - , University of Würzburg (Author)
  • Stefan Ehrlich - , Division of Psychological and Social Medicine and Developmental Neurosciences, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (Author)
  • Christian Fleischhaker - , University of Freiburg (Author)
  • Kerstin Konrad - , RWTH Aachen University, Jülich Research Centre (Author)
  • Reinhild Schwarte - , Oberberg Fachklinik Konraderhof (Author)
  • Nina Timmesfeld - , University of Marburg, Ruhr University Bochum (Author)
  • Christoph Wewetzer - , Cologne City Hospitals (Author)
  • Ronald Biemann - , Leipzig University (Author)
  • Wolfgang Scharke - , RWTH Aachen University (Author)
  • Beate Herpertz-Dahlmann - , RWTH Aachen University (Author)
  • Jochen Seitz - , RWTH Aachen University (Author)


Background: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) influences brain plasticity and feeding behaviour, and it has been linked to anorexia nervosa in numerous studies. Findings in mostly adult patients point to reduced serum BDNF levels in the acute stage of anorexia nervosa and rising levels with weight recovery. However, it is unclear whether this increase leads to normalization or supranormal levels, a difference that is potentially important for the etiology of anorexia nervosa and relapse. Methods: We measured serum BDNF at admission (n = 149), discharge (n = 130), 1-year follow-up (n = 116) and 2.5-year follow-up (n = 76) in adolescent female patients with anorexia nervosa hospitalized for the first time, and in healthy controls (n = 79). We analyzed associations with body mass index, eating disorder psychopathology and comorbidities. Results: Serum BDNF was only nominally lower at admission in patients with anorexia nervosa compared to healthy controls, but it increased continuously and reached supranormal levels at 2.5-year follow-up. BDNF was inversely associated with eating disorder psychopathology at discharge and positively associated with previous weight gain at 1-year follow-up. Limitations: We compensated for attrition and batch effects using statistical measures. Conclusion: In this largest longitudinal study to date, we found only nonsignificant reductions in BDNF in the acute stage of anorexia nervosa, possibly because of a shorter illness duration in adolescent patients. Supranormal levels of BDNF at 2.5-year follow-up could represent a pre-existing trait or a consequence of the illness. Because of the anorexigenic effect of BDNF, it might play an important predisposing role for relapse and should be explored further in studies that test causality.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E568-E578
JournalJournal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

External IDs

PubMed 34654737
ORCID /0000-0003-2132-4445/work/149437507