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Differential BDNF methylation in combat exposed veterans and the association with exercise

Voisey, Joanne, Lawford, Bruce, Bruenig, Dagmar, Harvey, Wendy, Morris, Charles P., Young, Ross McD, Mehta, Divya
Gene 2019 v.698 pp. 107-112
DNA methylation, antidepressants, cognition, exercise, gene expression, genes, males, memory, messenger RNA, military veterans, neuroplasticity, risk, therapeutics
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene is associated with increased risk of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and plays a role in neuroplasticity, cognition and memory. BDNF has strong potential as a therapeutic target as studies have shown that antidepressants, electroconvulsive treatment and exercise modulate BDNF expression and methylation. In this study we examined the role of BDNF methylation and expression in PTSD and the implications of exercise in mediating these effects.BDNF DNA methylation and gene expression analysis was performed in a sample of 96 male Vietnam veterans. Cases were combat-exposed veterans with current PTSD (n = 48) and controls were combat exposed veterans with no past or current PTSD diagnosis (n = 48).No association between BDNF mRNA and PTSD was identified. PTSD was associated with decreased methylation at three BDNF CpG sites (cg01546433 P = 0.004835; cg24650785 P = 0.000259 and cg002298481 P = 0.000672). Differential BDNF methylation was associated with exercise, with active exercise associated with lower methylation levels at three CpG sites (cg04481212 P = 0.005; cg01546433 P = 0.025 and cg00298481 P = 0.035). Given that exercise mediates BDNF action on cognitive plasticity, exercise may be a non-invasive, drug free option in the treatment of PTSD.