Protein synthesis is essential for the stabilization of glutamate receptor-dependent forms of long-lasting hippocampal synaptic plasticity and for the consolidation of memory, but the signal transduction mechanisms that regulate translation factors during these processes are not well understood. As a first step towards understanding how translation is activated during synaptic plasticity, we investigated how the eukaryotic initiation factor 4E (eIF4E), a rate-limiting mRNA cap-binding protein, and its kinase, Mnk1, are regulated by protein kinase C (PKC), cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activation in hippocampal area CA1. We found that treatment of mouse hippocampal slices with either phorbol ester, to activate PKC, or forskolin, to activate PKA, resulted in activation of Mnk1 and increased eIF4E phosphorylation that was dependent on extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Similarly, brief treatment of hippocampal slices with NMDA resulted in activation of Mnk1 and increased phosphorylation of eIF4E. The NMDA-induced activation of Mnk1 and increased phosphorylation of eIF4E were dependent on PKA and ERK, but not PKC, and were present in synaptoneurosome preparations. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that the PKA- and ERK-dependent increases in Mnk1 activation induced by NMDA also occurred in dendrites. These findings identify a specific regulatory pathway that can couple NMDA receptor activation to translation initiation factors in the hippocampus, and may represent a mechanism for triggering dendritic protein synthesis during long-term potentiation and long-term memory formation.