BDNF polymorphisms are linked to poorer working memory performance, reduced cerebellar and hippocampal volumes and differences in prefrontal cortex in a Swedish elderly population

BACKGROUND: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) links learning, memory and cognitive decline in elderly, but evidence linking BDNF allele variation, cognition and brain structural differences is lacking. METHODS: 367 elderly Swedish men (n = 181) and women (n = 186) from Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala seniors (PIVUS) were genotyped and the BDNF functional rs6265 SNP was further examined in subjects who completed the Trail Making Task (TMT), verbal fluency task, and had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) examined brain structure, cognition and links with BDNF. RESULTS: The functional BDNF SNP (rs6265,) predicted better working memory performance on the TMT with positive association of the Met rs6265, and was linked with greater cerebellar, precuneus, left superior frontal gyrus and bilateral hippocampal volume, and reduced brainstem and bilateral posterior cingulate volumes. CONCLUSIONS: The functional BDNF polymorphism influences brain volume in regions associated with memory and regulation of sensorimotor control, with the Met rs6265 allele potentially being more beneficial to these functions in the elderly.