Working memory moderates the relation between the brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and psychotherapy outcome for depression

Sanne J. E. Bruijniks*, Gerard van Grootheest, Pim Cuijpers, Hilde de Kluiver, Christiaan H. Vinkers, Frenk Peeters, Brenda Penninx, Charlotte E. Teunissen, Marcus J. H. Huibers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Insight into patient characteristics that predict response to treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD) may help to personalize treatment and improve outcomes. One mechanism that has been linked to the success of treatment for MDD is brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). BDNF is implicated in learning and memory and may play a role in the effects of psychotherapy that involves changing cognitions and behaviors. In addition, only in individuals with low BDNF, low working memory capacity has been associated with increased symptoms of depression. However, the role of BDNF and working memory capacity in psychotherapy outcome is unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of BDNF and its interaction with working memory capacity in psychotherapy outcomes for MDD. Method: Adult patients with MDD were randomized to weekly or twice weekly sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy. BDNF Val66Met polymorphism (rs6265) (n = 138) was defined and serum BDNF was quantified before (n = 138) and after psychotherapy (n = 82). Results: Baseline serum BDNF and the Val66Met polymorphism were not associated with outcome and associations did not differ between treatment conditions. Working memory capacity significantly moderated the relation between baseline serum BDNF and outcome: high serum BDNF at baseline was related to less depressive symptoms following psychotherapy in the presence of high working memory capacity, but not low working memory capacity. Discussion: These findings, if replicated, might indicate that while BDNF may not be related to psychotherapy outcomes in general, they may play a role in the presence of specific learning processes such as working memory capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-432
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020

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