In the CNS, there are widespread and diverse interactions between growth factors and estrogen. Here we examine the interactions of estrogen and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), two molecules that have historically been studied separately, despite the fact that they seem to share common targets, effects, and mechanisms of action. The demonstration of an estrogen-sensitive response element on the BDNF gene provided an impetus to explore a direct relationship between estrogen and BDNF, and predicted that the effects of estrogen, at least in part, might be due to the induction of BDNF. This hypothesis is discussed with respect to the hippocampus, where substantial evidence has accumulated in favor of it, but alternate hypotheses are also raised. It is suggested that some of the interactions between estrogen and BDNF, as well as the controversies and implications associated with their respective actions, may be best appreciated in light of the ability of BDNF to induce neuropeptide Y (NPY) synthesis in hippocampal neurons. Taken together, this tri-molecular cascade, estrogen-BDNF-NPY, may be important in understanding the hormonal regulation of hippocampal function. It may also be relevant to other regions of the CNS where estrogen is known to exert profound effects, such as amygdala and hypothalamus; and may provide greater insight into neurological disorders and psychiatric illness, including Alzheimer's disease, depression and epilepsy.