Recent studies show that focal brain injury, cerebral ischaemia, hypoglycaemia and seizures increase the expression of c-fos and brain-derived neurotrophic factor in brain. Here we report that hippocampal focal brain injury transiently induces the immediate early genes c-fos, jun-B, c-jun and krox-24 (zif-268) messenger RNA and protein and brain-derived neurotrophic factor messenger RNA in rat dentate gyrus neurons, an effect that was blocked by the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist MK-801. Prior administration of the protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide super-induced immediate early gene messenger RNA, abolished immediate early gene protein induction, but had no effect on injury-mediated induction of brain-derived neurotrophic factor messenger RNA. Thus, while N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation results in the induction of both immediate early genes and brain-derived neurotrophic factor messenger RNA, de novo synthesis of immediate early gene proteins is not critical for the increased expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor messenger RNA seen in brain after focal injury. These results suggest that brain-derived neurotrophic factor is induced after injury as an immediate early gene.