Nerve growth factor (NGF) is produced in the hippocampus throughout life and is retrogradely trafficked to septal cholinergic neurons, providing a potential mechanism for modulating cholinergic inputs and, thereby, hippocampal plasticity. To explore NGF modulation of hippocampal plasticity and function, NGF levels were augmented or blocked in intact adult rats, and subsequent in vivo effects on cholinergic neurons, hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP), and learning were examined. NGF augmentation significantly enhanced cholinergic neuronal markers and facilitated induction of hippocampal LTP. Blockade of endogenous NGF significantly reduced hippocampal LTP and impaired retention of spatial memory. These findings reveal an essential role for NGF in regulating biological mechanisms related to plasticity and memory in the intact adult brain.