Results from several laboratories have suggested that peptide factors known as neurotrophins may play roles coupling changes in synaptic activity to lasting changes in synaptic function. Consistent with this idea, increases in synaptic activity and intracellular calcium induce the expression of the gene that encodes the neurotrophin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Recently, a pathway has been elucidated in neurons by which the influx of extracellular calcium evokes brain-derived neurotrophic factor transcription (BDNF). Calcium activates BDNF transcription through two adjacent calcium response elements within one of the promoters of the BDNF gene. One of the two elements binds to the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP) response element binding protein (CREB) transcription factor, and interfering with CREB or related family members inhibits calcium-dependent BDNF transcription. This review focuses on the mechanisms by which calcium influx regulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression and the implications that these results have for potential roles of neurotrophins in synaptic function.