Phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase has been suggested to mediate cell survival. Consistent with this possibility, apoptosis of conditionally (simian virus 40 Tts) immortalized rat hippocampal H19-7 neuronal cells was increased in response to wortmannin, an inhibitor of PI 3-kinase. Downstream effectors of PI 3-kinase include Rac1, protein kinase C, and the serine-threonine kinase Akt (protein kinase B). Here, we show that activation of Akt is one mechanism by which PI 3-kinase can mediate survival of H19-7 cells during serum deprivation or differentiation. While ectopic expression of wild-type Akt (c-Akt) does not significantly enhance survival in H19-7 cells, expression of activated forms of Akt (v-Akt or myristoylated Akt) results in enhanced survival which can be comparable to that conferred by Bcl-2. Conversely, expression of a dominant-negative mutant of Akt accelerates cell death upon serum deprivation or differentiation. Finally, the results indicate that Akt can transduce a survival signal for differentiating neuronal cells through a mechanism that is independent of induction of Bcl-2 or Bcl-XL or inhibition of Jun kinase activity.