Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has important functions in the development of the nervous system and in brain plasticity-related processes such as memory, learning, and drug addiction. Despite the fact that the function and regulation of rodent BDNF gene expression have received close attention during the last decade, knowledge of the structural organization of mouse and rat BDNF gene has remained incomplete. We have identified and characterized several mouse and rat BDNF transcripts containing novel 5' untranslated exons and introduced a new numbering system for mouse and rat BDNF exons. According to our results both mouse and rat BDNF gene consist of eight 5' untranslated exons and one protein coding 3' exon. Transcription of the gene results in BDNF transcripts containing one of the eight 5' exons spliced to the protein coding exon and in a transcript containing only 5' extended protein coding exon. We also report the distinct tissue-specific expression profiles of each of the mouse and rat 5' exon-specific transcripts in different brain regions and nonneural tissues. In addition, we show that kainic acid-induced seizures that lead to changes in cellular Ca(2+) levels as well as inhibition of DNA methylation and histone deacetylation contribute to the differential regulation of the expression of BDNF transcripts. Finally, we confirm that mouse and rat BDNF gene loci do not encode antisense mRNA transcripts, suggesting that mechanisms of regulation for rodent and human BDNF genes differ substantially.