Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin involved in neuronal survival and plasticity that binds to high-affinity receptors named TrkB. In the central nervous system, brain insults, including stress, induce modifications in BDNF messenger RNA (mRNA) expression. The present study attempted to determine in the adult rat pituitary, a peripheral structure relevant for the stress response: (1) whether BDNF and TrkB mRNA expression is influenced by different durations (15, 30, 60, 180 and 300 min) of single immobilization stress; (2) the expression of BDNF transcripts containing the different exons and their possible variations after stress exposure. Plasma corticotropin (ACTH) and corticosterone concentrations were strongly and significantly increased as early as 5 min after the stress stimulus. Using RNAse protection assay and in situ hybridization, a rapid increase in BDNF mRNA occurred at 15 min. This was accompanied by an increase in BDNF protein at 60 min, and by a rapid and significant decrease in TrkB mRNA expression observed at 15 and 30 min after stress application. RT-PCR analysis of BNDF transcripts showed strong basal expression of exons III and IV, whereas transcripts containing exons I and II seemed weakly expressed. After stress application, transcripts containing exons III and IV were rapidly and significantly increased at 30 min, whereas transcripts containing exons I and II remained unchanged. These results show that pituitary BDNF transcripts expression is differentially affected by immobilization stress.

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