Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) promotes neuron survival, enhances sprouting, protects neurons against insult, and may be involved in several aspects of learning and memory. In this study, rats trained to locate a submerged platform in a water maze had elevated levels of BDNF messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in the hippocampus (p < .05), a structure associated with spatial memory. BDNF mRNA expression increased after 3 and 6 days but not after 1 day of training in the water maze. A yoked control group that swam without the platform present, to control for physical activity, showed a trend for elevated BDNF mRNA at an intermediate level between the learning and sedentary groups. Other cortical and subcortical areas did not show a significant increase in BDNF mRNA after learning or activity (p > .05). These findings suggest that learning can impact BDNF mRNA expression localized to the brain areas involved in the processing of spatial information. Furthermore, behaviors such as physical activity and learning may help maintain and protect neurons at risk in aging and neurodegenerative disease via increased BDNF expression.