X chromosome-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein (XIAP) is an anti-apoptotic protein enhancing cell survival. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) also promotes neuronal viability but the links between XIAP and BDNF have remained unclear. We show here that the overexpression of XIAP increases BDNF in transgenic mice and cultured rat hippocampal neurons, whereas downregulation of XIAP by silencing RNA decreased BDNF. XIAP also stimulated BDNF signaling, as shown by increased phosphorylation of the TrkB receptor and the downstream molecule, cAMP response element-binding protein. The mechanism involved nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) activation and blocking of NF-kappaB signaling inhibited the increased activities of BDNF promoters I and IV by XIAP. In neuronal cultures XIAP also upregulated interleukin (IL)-6, which is an NF-kappaB-responsive gene. The addition of IL-6 elevated whereas incubation with IL-6-blocking antibodies reduced BDNF in the neurons. BDNF itself activated NF-kappaB in the neurons at higher concentrations. The data show that XIAP has trophic effects on hippocampal neurons by increasing BDNF and TrkB activity. The results reveal a cytokine network in the brain involving BDNF, IL-6 and XIAP interconnected via the NF-kappaB system.