We have previously shown that voluntary exercise produces enhanced neurogenesis and long-term potentiation (LTP) in the dentate gyrus (DG) of mice in vitro. In the present experiments we show that rats given access to a running wheel (Runners) exhibit significantly more short-term potentiation and LTP with theta-patterned conditioning stimulation in vivo than do age-matched litter mates (Controls). This increase in LTP appears to reflect an alteration in the induction threshold for synaptic plasticity that accompanies voluntary exercise. Weak theta-patterned stimulation, which did not produce LTP in control subjects, produced a robust and long-lasting LTP in Runners. LTP induction in both groups was dependent upon the activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, and could be blocked by the competitive antagonist [+/-]-3-[2-carboxypiperazin-4-yl] propanephosphonic acid. Consistent with these findings, we found that mRNA levels for NR2B subtype of NMDA receptor were increased specifically in the DG of Runners. In addition to changes in NR2B mRNA levels, quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis revealed that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glutamate receptor 5 mRNA levels were also significantly elevated in the DG of Runners, but not in other areas of the hippocampus. Thus, alterations in the expression of BDNF, and specific glutamate receptor subtypes, may underlie the ability of exercise to enhance neurogenesis and reduce the threshold for LTP in the DG.