It is essential to understand the molecular processes underlying long-term memory to provide therapeutic targets of aberrant memory that produce pathological behaviour in humans. Under conditions of recall, fully-consolidated memories can undergo reconsolidation or extinction. These retrieval-mediated memory processes may rely on distinct molecular processes. The cellular mechanisms initiating the signature molecular events are not known. Using infusions of protein synthesis inhibitors, antisense oligonucleotide targeting brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mRNA or tPA-STOP (an inhibitor of the proteolysis of BDNF protein) into the hippocampus of the awake rat, we show that acquisition and extinction of contextual fear memory depended on the increased and decreased proteolysis of proBDNF (precursor BDNF) in the hippocampus, respectively. Conditions of retrieval that are known to initiate the reconsolidation of contextual fear memory, a BDNF-independent memory process, were not correlated with altered proBDNF cleavage. Thus, the processing of BDNF was associated with the acquisition of new information and the updating of information about a salient stimulus. Furthermore, the differential requirement for the processing of proBDNF by tPA in distinct memory processes suggest that the molecular events actively engaged to support the storage and/or the successful retrieval of memory depends on the integration of ongoing experience with past learning.