Memantine, a clinically used NMDA receptor antagonist possesses neuroprotective properties, but the exact mechanisms of its beneficial action on neuronal survival are poorly recognized. In the present study, some intracellular mechanisms of memantine effects on staurosporine-evoked cell death were investigated in primary cortical neurons. Memantine (0.1-2 muM) suppressed neuronal apoptosis evoked by staurosporine in 7 DIV cortical neurons, whereas other antagonists of NMDA receptor, MK-801 (1 muM) and AP-5 (100 muM) were ineffective. The anti-apoptotic effects of memantine were not connected with any changes in cytoplasmic calcium concentration or reactive oxygen species level. The immunoblot analysis showed that the staurosporine induced a decrease in p-Akt protein kinase level and that this effect was reversed by memantine treatment. Moreover, the PI3-K inhibitors, wortmannin and LY 294002 attenuated the anti-apoptotic action of memantine on staurosporine-induced cell damage. Furthermore, the ELISA studies showed increased cellular and released BDNF protein level after combined treatment with memantine and staurosporine. There was no effect of memantine on the activation and expression of other protein kinases involved in the mechanism of cellular survival, i.e. ERK1/2, JNK and GSK3-beta. The obtained data suggest an NMDAR-independent action of memantine in attenuation of neuronal apoptosis and point to the engagement of BDNF and PI3-K/Akt pathway in these processes.