Background: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a type of growth factor that promotes growth and survival of neurons. Fetal exposure to opiates can lead to postnatal withdrawal syndrome, which is referred as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Preclinical and clinical studies have shown an association between opiates exposure and alteration in BDNF expression in the brain and serum levels in adult. However, to date, there are no data available on the effects of opiate exposure on BDNF levels in infant who are exposed to opiates in utero and whether BDNF level may correlate with the severity of NAS.

Objective: To compare plasma BDNF levels among NAS and non-NAS infants and to determine the correlation of BDNF levels and the severity of NAS.

Methods: This is a prospective cohort study with no intervention involved. Infants ≥35 weeks of gestation were enrolled. BDNF level was measured using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay technique from blood samples drawn within 48 h of life. The severity of NAS was determined by the length of hospital stay, number of medications required to treat NAS.

Results: 67 infants were enrolled, 34 NAS and 33 non-NAS. Mean gestational age did not differ between the two groups. Mean birth weight of NAS infants was significantly lower than the non-NAS infants (3,070 ± 523 vs. 3,340 ± 459 g, p = 0.028). Mean BDNF level in NAS group was 252.2 ± 91.6 ng/ml, significantly higher than 211.3 ± 66.3 ng/ml in the non-NAS group (p = 0.04). There were no differences in BDNF levels between NAS infants that required one medication vs. more than one medication (254 ± 91 vs. 218 ± 106 ng/ml, p = 0.47). There was no correlation between the BDNF levels and length of hospital stay (p = 0.68) among NAS infants. Overall, there were no significant correlations between BDNF levels and NAS scores except at around 15 h after admission (correlation 0.35, p = 0.045).

Conclusion: Plasma BDNF level was significantly increased in NAS infants during the first 48 h when compared to non-NAS infants. The correlations between plasma BDNF levels and the severity of NAS warrant further study. These results suggest that BDNF may play a neuromodulatory role during withdrawal after in utero opiate exposure.

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Notes/Citation Information

Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, v. 5, 238, p. 1-7.

© 2017 Subedi, Huang, Pant, Westgate, Bada, Bauer, Giannone and Sithisarn.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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Funding Information

This study was supported by Children’s Miracle Network grant, grant number 1012137390 awarded to TS.