Neurotrophins, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are prominent regulators of neuronal survival, growth and differentiation during development. While trophic factors are viewed as well-understood but not innovative molecules, there are many lines of evidence indicating that BDNF plays an important role in the pathophysiology of many neurodegenerative disorders, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. In particular, lower levels of BDNF are associated with the aetiology of Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases. A major challenge is to explain how neurotrophins are able to induce plasticity, improve learning and memory and prevent age-dependent cognitive decline through receptor signalling. This article will review the mechanism of action of neurotrophins and how BDNF/tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) receptor signaling can dictate trophic responses and change brain plasticity through activity-dependent stimulation. Alternative approaches for modulating BDNF/TrkB signalling to deliver relevant clinical outcomes in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders will also be described.

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