Recent evidence indicates that trophic factors can exert fast effects on neurones and so alter synaptic plasticity. Here, we focus on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which exerts a modulatory action at hippocampal synapses that are involved in learning and memory, and at the first pain synapse between primary sensory neurones and dorsal horn neurones. Hippocampal and sensory neurones share some properties for the release of endogenous BDNF. In the Schaffer collateral pathway of the hippocampus, binding of BDNF to high-affinity trkB receptors is essential for the induction of long-term potentiation, a specific type of synaptic plasticity. However, the consequences of BDNF binding to trkB receptors in the dorsal horn in relation to pain mechanisms are less well established and are considered in detail.