This study investigated whether positive modulators of AMPA-type glutamate receptors influence neurotrophin expression by forebrain neurons. Treatments with the ampakine CX614 markedly and reversibly increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mRNA and protein levels in cultured rat entorhinal/hippocampal slices. Acute effects of CX614 were dose dependent over the range in which the drug increased synchronous neuronal discharges; threshold concentrations for acute responses had large effects on mRNA content when applied for 3 d. Comparable results were obtained with a second, structurally distinct ampakine CX546. Ampakine-induced upregulation was broadly suppressed by AMPA, but not NMDA, receptor antagonists and by reducing transmitter release. Antagonism of L-type voltage-sensitive calcium channels blocked induction in entorhinal cortex but not hippocampus. Prolonged infusions of suprathreshold ampakine concentrations produced peak BDNF mRNA levels at 12 hr and a return to baseline levels by 48 hr. In contrast, BDNF protein remained elevated throughout a 48 hr incubation with the drug. Nerve growth factor mRNA levels also were increased by ampakines but with a much more rapid return to control levels during chronic administration. Finally, intraperitoneal injections of CX546 increased hippocampal BDNF mRNA levels in aged rats and middle-aged mice. The present results provide evidence of regional differences in mechanisms via which activity regulates neurotrophin expression. Moreover, these data establish that changes in synaptic potency produce sufficient network level physiological effects for inducing neurotrophin genes, indicate that the response becomes refractory during prolonged ampakine exposure, and raise the possibility of using positive AMPA modulators to regulate neurotrophin levels in aged brain.