Brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a biomarker in cancer-related cognitive impairment among adolescent and young adult cancer patients

Ding Quan Ng, Ivy Cheng, Claire Wang, Chia Jie Tan, Yi Long Toh, Yong Qin Koh, Yu Ke, Koon Mian Foo, Raymond J. Chan, Han Kiat Ho, Lita Chew, Mohamad Farid bin Harunal Rashid, Alexandre Chan

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Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) improves cognitive function by stimulating neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. We hypothesize that higher plasma BDNF levels are protective against cognitive toxicity among adolescent and young adult cancer patients (15–39 years old). In a prospective, longitudinal study, we recruited 74 newly diagnosed cancer and 118 age-matched non-cancer controls who completed the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB), Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Cognitive Function questionnaire (FACT-Cog) and blood draws. Plasma BDNF was quantified using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Genomic DNA from buffy coat was genotyped for BDNF Val66Met. Most cancer participants were diagnosed with breast (24%) and head/neck (22%) cancers. After adjusting for sociodemographic variables (age, gender, race, marital status, education years), cancer participants had lower BDNF levels (ng/mL) at baseline (median: 10.7 vs 21.6, p < 0.001) and 6-months post-baseline (median: 8.2 vs 15.3, p = 0.001) compared to non-cancer controls. Through linear mixed modelling adjusted for sociodemographic variables, baseline cognition, fatigue, psychological distress, and time, we observed that among cancer participants, lower baseline BDNF levels were associated with worse attention (p = 0.029), memory (p = 0.018) and self-perceived cognitive abilities (p = 0.020) during cancer treatment. Met/Met was associated with enhanced executive function compared to Val/Val (p = 0.012). Plasma BDNF may serve as a predictive biomarker of cancer-related cognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16298
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2023


  • Biomarkers
  • Cancer
  • Neurological manifestations


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