In PC12 cells, it has been previously reported that nerve growth factor stimulates neuropeptide Y (NPY) gene expression. In the current study we examined the signalling pathways involved in this effect by transiently expressing in PC12 cells the receptor (TrkB) for the related neurotrophin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF caused a 3-fold induction of luciferase expression from a transiently co-transfected plasmid possessing the firefly luciferase gene under the control of the NPY promoter. This effect of BDNF was completely blocked by either a Y484F mutation in TrkB (which blocks high-affinity Shc binding to TrkB) or by a Y785F substitution [which blocks the binding, phosphorylation and activation of phospholipase Cgamma (PLCgamma)]. Activation of the NPY promoter by neurotrophin-3 in PC12 cells overexpressing TrkC was also completely blocked by a naturally occurring kinase insert which prevents the high-affinity binding of Shc and PLCgamma. NPY promoter activation by BDNF was blocked by PD98059, suggesting a role for mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase). Stimulation of NPY gene expression by PMA, but not by BDNF, was blocked by Ro-31-8220, a protein kinase C inhibitor, excluding a role for this serine/threonine protein kinase in the effect of BDNF. In addition, BDNF did not cause an elevation in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration. Taken together, our results suggest that stimulation of the NPY promoter by BDNF requires the simultaneous activation of two distinct pathways; one involves Shc and MAP kinase, and the other appears to be PLCgamma-independent but requires an intact tyrosine-785 on TrkB and so may involve an effector of TrkB signalling that remains to be identified.