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The brain-derived neurotrophic factor Val66Met polymorphism affects encoding of object locations during active navigation

Wegman, J., Tyborowska, A., Hoogman, M., Vasquez, A. A., & Janzen, G. (2017). The brain-derived neurotrophic factor Val66Met polymorphism affects encoding of object locations during active navigation. European Journal of Neuroscience, 45(12), 1501-1511. doi:10.1111/ejn.13416.
The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was shown to be involved in spatial memory and spatial strategy preference. A naturally occurring single nucleotide polymorphism of the BDNF gene (Val66Met) affects activity-dependent secretion of BDNF. The current event-related fMRI study on preselected groups of ‘Met’ carriers and homozygotes of the ‘Val’ allele investigated the role of this polymorphism on encoding and retrieval in a virtual navigation task in 37 healthy volunteers. In each trial, participants navigated toward a target object. During encoding, three positional cues (columns) with directional cues (shadows) were available. During retrieval, the invisible target had to be replaced while either two objects without shadows (objects trial) or one object with a shadow (shadow trial) were available. The experiment consisted of blocks, informing participants of which trial type would be most likely to occur during retrieval. We observed no differences between genetic groups in task performance or time to complete the navigation tasks. The imaging results show that Met carriers compared to Val homozygotes activate the left hippocampus more during successful object location memory encoding. The observed effects were independent of non-significant performance differences or volumetric differences in the hippocampus. These results indicate that variations of the BDNF gene affect memory encoding during spatial navigation, suggesting that lower levels of BDNF in the hippocampus results in less efficient spatial memory processing
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