Differentiation and maturation of dentate gyrus granule cells requires coordinated interactions of numerous processes. These must be regulated by protein factors capable of integrating signals mediated through diverse signalling pathways. Such integrators of inter and intracellular physiological stimuli include the cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB), a leucine-zipper class transcription factor that is activated through phosphorylation. Neuronal activity and neurotrophic factors, known to be involved in granule cell differentiation, are major physiologic regulators of CREB function. To examine whether CREB may play a role in governing coordinated gene transcription during granule cell differentiation, we determined the spatial and temporal profiles of phosphorylated (activated) CREB throughout postnatal development in immature rat hippocampus. We demonstrate that CREB activation is confined to discrete, early stages of granule cell differentiation. In addition, CREB phosphorylation occurs prior to expression of the neurotrophins BDNF and NT-3. These data indicate that in a signal transduction cascade connecting CREB and neurotrophins in the process of granule cell maturation, CREB is located upstream of neurotrophins. Importantly, CREB may be a critical component of the machinery regulating the coordinated transcription of genes contributing to the differentiation of granule cells and their integration into the dentate gyrus network.