The serine/threonine protein kinase B (PKB)/Akt is a phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) effector that is thought to play an important roll in a wide variety of cellular events. The present study examined whether PKB activation in cortical neuronal cultures is coupled with synaptic activity. A 1-h incubation of neuronal cultures with tetrodotoxin (TTX), the PI3K inhibitor wortmannin, the NMDA receptor antagonist MK-801 or removal of extracellular calcium significantly reduced basal levels of phospho(Ser473)-PKB, indicating that activity-dependent glutamate release maintains PKB activation through an NMDA receptor-PI3K pathway. A 5-min exposure to NMDA (50 micro m) in the presence of TTX increased phospho-PKB back to levels observed in the absence of TTX. NMDA stimulation of phospho-PKB was blocked by wortmannin, the CaMKII inhibitor KN-93, MK-801, and removal of extracellular calcium. We have previously shown that NMDA receptors can bi-directionally regulate activation of extracellular-signal regulated kinase (ERK), and NMDA receptor stimulation of PKB in the present study appeared to mirror activation of ERK. These results suggest that in cultured cortical neurons, PKB activity is dynamically regulated by synaptic activity and is coupled to NMDA receptor activation. In addition, NMDA receptor activation of ERK and PKB may occur through overlapping signaling pathways that bifurcate at the level of Ras.