Neuroprotective actions of scatter factor/hepatocyte growth factor (SF/HGF) have not been described. We examined the effects of SF/HGF in comparison to acidic fibroblast growth factor-1 (FGF-1) on N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and quinolinic acid (QUIN)-induced excitotoxicity in primary cerebellar granule neurons. Exposure to NMDA or QUIN for 24 h resulted in concentration-dependent cell death (p < 0.001) that was completely attenuated (p < 0.001) by pre-treatment of cells with SF/HGF (50 ng/mL) or FGF-1 (40 ng/mL). SF/ HGF and FGF-1 activated both Akt and MAP-kinase > threefold (p < 0.001). Neither SF/HGF nor FGF-1 activated cyclic AMP-response element binding protein (CREB), a downstream target of MAP-kinase, whereas brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) activated both MAP-kinase and CREB in granule neurons. Neuroprotection against NMDA or QUIN by SF/HGF and FGF-1 was negated by the addition of LY294002 (10 microM) or wortmannin (100 microM), two distinct inhibitors of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (P13-K), but not by the MAP-kinase kinase (MEK) inhibitor PD98059 (33 microm). Likewise, expression of a dominant-negative mutant of Akt (Akt-kd) completely prevented the neuroprotective actions of SF/HGF and FGF-1. Overexpression of a constitutively activated Akt (Akt-myr) or wild-type Akt (wtAkt) attenuated excitotoxic cell death. These data show that both SF/HGF and FGF-1 protect cerebellar granule neurons against excitotoxicity with similar potency in a P13-K/Akt-dependent and MAP-kinase/CREB-independent manner.