We have investigated the impact of neuromuscular activity on the expression of neurotrophins in the lumbar spinal cord region and innervating skeletal muscle of adult rats. Rats were exercised on a treadmill for 1 day or 5 consecutive days and euthanized at 0, 2 or 6 h after the last bout of exercise. By Day 1, there was no clear evidence of an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mRNA in the spinal cord or the soleus muscle. By Day 5, there was a significant increase in BDNF mRNA in the spinal cord at 2 h post-training, and the soleus muscle showed a robust increase between 0 and 6 h post-training. Immunoassays showed significant increases in BDNF protein in the soleus muscle by training Day 5. Immunohistochemical analyses showed elevated BDNF levels in motoneuron cell bodies and axons in the ventral horn. Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) mRNA was measured to determine whether selected neurotrophins respond with a selective pattern of induction to neuromuscular activity. In the spinal cord, there was a progressive post-training decrease in NT-3 mRNA following a single bout of training, while there was a significant increase in NT-3 mRNA at 2 h post-training by Day 5. The soleus muscle showed a progressive increase in NT-3 mRNA by Days 1 and 5 following training. These results show that neuromuscular activity has specific effects on the BDNF and NT-3 systems, and that repetitive exercise affects the magnitude and stability of these responses.