Synaptic plasticity, the fiundamental ability of synapses to undergo experience-dependent changes in synaptic strength, is thought to underlie a range of long-term adaptive responses of the central nervous system. The inability to generate or maintain appropriate changes in synaptic connectivity and neuronal circuitry is likely to impair cognitive futnction associated with many neurological and psychiatric disorders. The success of intervening therapeutic approaches will depend on the ability to target key component mechanisms in the complex process of synaptic plasticity. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has emerged as a major regulator of synaptic plasticity and a key target in disorders such as major depression and Alzheimner's disease. This review discusses findings that link BDNF mechanisms in synaptic plasticity to disease mechanisms and possible future therapies.