Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are trophic factors required for the viability and normal functions of various neuronal cells. However, the detailed intracellular mechanism(s) involved in these effects in neuronal cells remains to be fully elucidated. In present study, the respective intracellular signaling pathway induced by IGF-1 and BDNF and their possible role in neuronal survival were investigated. Both IGF-1 and BDNF protected hippocampal neurons from serum deprivation-induced death with IGF-1 apparently being more potent. Western blot analyses showed that both IGF-1 and BDNF induced the activation of the phosphatidylinositide 3 kinase (PI3)/Akt (protein kinase B) kinase and the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. The phosphorylation of Akt and its downstream target, FKHRL1, induced by IGF-1 was rapid and sustained while that of MAPK was transient. The reverse situation was observed for BDNF. Moreover, IGF-1 potently induced the tyrosine phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 (IRS-1) and its association with PI3 kinase while BDNF was weak in these assays. In contrast, the tyrosine phosphorylation of Shc proteins was dramatically stimulated by BDNF, with IGF-1 having only a minimal effect. Most interestingly, only the inhibitor of the PI3K/Akt pathway, LY294002, was able to block the survival effects of both IGF-1 and BDNF; an inhibitor of the MAPK pathway inhibitor, PD98059, being ineffective. Taken together, these data reveal that the survival properties of both IGF-1 and BDNF against serum deprivation are mediated by the activation of the PI3K/Akt, but not the MAPK, pathway in hippocampal neurons.