The role of the cerebellum in coordinating mental activity is supported by its connections with cerebral regions involved in cognitive/affective functioning, with decreased activities on functional neuroimaging observed in the cerebellum of schizophrenia patients performing mental tasks. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)-induced activation of tyrosine kinase B (TrkB) is essential to synaptic plasticity. We hypothesized that alterations in BDNF and TrkB expression in the cerebellum were associated with schizophrenia and affective disorders.
We employed immunohistochemistry and immunoblotting to quantify protein expression of BDNF and TrkB in the cerebellum of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression compared to controls (n=15 each).
While TrkB immunoreactivity in each of the molecular and granule-cell layers was reduced in all 3 disease groups (12–34%) compared to the control (P=0.018 and 0.038, respectively, ANOVA), only the reduction in bipolar disorder remained statistically significant upon Tukey-Kramer post hoc analyses (P=0.019 and 0.021, respectively). Apparent decreases in BDNF immunoreactivity in all 3 disease groups (12–30%) compared to the control were not statistically significant. TrkB immunoreactivity was not significantly associated with any of the demographic, clinical, and postmortem variables. Immunoblotting displayed an 85-kDa TrkB-immunoreactive band, consistent with a truncated isoform, in all 60 cases.
On immunoblotting, apparent decreases in 85-kDa-TrkB levels in all 3 disease groups compared to the control were not statistically significant.
Our finding of reduced TrkB expression in bipolar disorder suggests that dysregulation of TrkB-mediated neurotrophin signaling in the cerebellum may play a role in the pathophysiology of this disease.