CREB is a transcription factor implicated in the control of adaptive neuronal responses. Although one function of CREB in neurons is believed to be the regulation of genes whose products control synaptic function, the targets of CREB that mediate synaptic function have not yet been identified. This report describes experiments demonstrating that CREB or a closely related protein mediates Ca2+-dependent regulation of BDNF, a neurotrophin that modulates synaptic activity. In cortical neurons, Ca2+ influx triggers phosphorylation of CREB, which by binding to a critical Ca2+ response element (CRE) within the BDNF gene activates BDNF transcription. Mutation of the BDNF CRE or an adjacent novel regulatory element as well as a blockade of CREB function resulted in a dramatic loss of BDNF transcription. These findings suggest that a CREB family member acts cooperatively with an additional transcription factor(s) to regulate BDNF transcription. We conclude that the BDNF gene is a CREB family target whose protein product functions at synapses to control adaptive neuronal responses.