In view of the neurotrophic effect of vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), the regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression by VIP and the related peptide pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) was analysed by Northern blot in primary cultures of cortical neurones. Results reported in this article demonstrate that VIP and PACAP stimulate the expression of BDNF mRNA in primary cultures of cortical neurones and astrocytes. In primary cultures of cortical neurones, induction of BDNF mRNA by VIP and PACAP is completely inhibited by the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists MK-801 and AP5, therefore indicating that VIP and PACAP do not stimulate BDNF expression directly but rather by potentiating the effect of glutamate tonically released by neurones and acting at NMDA receptors. In addition to its neurotrophic effects, BDNF has been shown to be involved in neuronal plasticity and results reported here suggest that by stimulating BDNF expression, VIP and PACAP could modulate synaptic plasticity in the cerebral cortex.
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