The effects of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were investigated on synaptic transmission and two forms of activity-dependent synaptic plasticity, long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD), in visual cortex slices prepared from young (P21 -28) rats. The slices treated for 2-5 h in BDNF showed no difference from control slices when a 'strong' tetanus was used (theta-burst stimulation) to elicit a maximal level of LTP but displayed significantly greater synaptic potentiation in response to a 'weak' (20 Hz) tetanus. The BDNF-treated slices also showed significantly less LTD in response to a 1 Hz tetanus. Thus, BDNF treatment alters the relationship between stimulation frequency and synaptic plasticity in the visual cortex, shifting the modification threshold to the left. The effects of BDNF on LTP and LTD induction may be attributed to the significant enhancement of synaptic responses that was observed during conditioning stimulation. These data suggest that one role of BDNF during development of the visual cortex may be to modulate the properties of synaptic plasticity, enhancing synaptic strengthening and reducing synaptic weakening processes which contribute to the formation of specific synaptic connections.