Depressive symptoms are frequent clinical manifestations in patients with schizophrenia. Decreased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been shown to be involved in the development of depressive symptoms. However, the detailed molecular mechanism of BDNF in the depressive symptoms of schizophrenia patients remains to be fully elucidated. This study aimed to investigate the role of BDNF in the depressive symptoms in drug-naïve first-episode (DNFE) patients with schizophrenia and whether BDNF levels were associated with the improvement of depressive symptoms after olanzapine treatment. 50 DNFE schizophrenia patients and 55 healthy controls were recruited, and their serum BDNF levels were compared. All patients were treated with olanzapine monotherapy for 12 weeks, and 45 patients completed the trial. The serum BDNF levels and depressive symptoms were measured again at follow-up. We found that DNFE patients had lower BDNF levels, compared to controls. Last observation carried forward (LOCF) analysis was used for patients who dropped out after the second month, and 50 patients were included in the statistical analysis with LOCF. After 12 weeks of treatment with olanzapine, BDNF levels were significantly increased and depressive symptoms were significantly decreased. Correlation analysis showed that the change of BDNF levels after treatment was correlated with the change of HAMD total score from baseline. Further regression analysis showed that the change in BDNF levels was an independent predictor for the improvement in depressive symptoms, after controlling age, BMI change and the decrease of PANSS total score. However, the baseline BDNF levels were not associated with an improvement in depressive symptoms in patients. Our findings reveal that olanzapine treatment can increase BDNF levels and improve depressive symptoms in schizophrenia patients. Moreover, the changes in serum BDNF levels were related to the improvement in depressive symptoms.
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