There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that stress decreases the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in limbic structures that control mood and that antidepressant treatment reverses or blocks the effects of stress. Decreased levels of BDNF, as well as other neurotrophic factors, could contribute to the atrophy of certain limbic structures, including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex that has been observed in depressed subjects. Conversely, the neurotrophic actions of antidepressants could reverse neuronal atrophy and cell loss and thereby contribute to the therapeutic actions of these treatments. This review provides a critical examination of the neurotrophic hypothesis of depression that has evolved from this work, including analysis of preclinical cellular (adult neurogenesis) and behavioral models of depression and antidepressant actions, as well as clinical neuroimaging and postmortem studies. Although there are some limitations, the results of these studies are consistent with the hypothesis that decreased expression of BDNF and possibly other growth factors contributes to depression and that upregulation of BDNF plays a role in the actions of antidepressant treatment.