We have examined the effects of neurotrophins brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF) on the expression of the maturation-specific proteins synaptophysin and tau, and the growth-associated protein (GAP)-43 in cerebellar granule cells. We find that BDNF but not NGF rapidly (within 2 h) upregulates levels of synaptophysin, tau and c-Fos correlating with expression of the neurotrophin receptor TrkB. The rapid increase in synaptophysin is not preceded by c-Fos elevation suggesting a post-transcriptional mechanism may be involved. In contrast, no upregulation of GAP-43 levels are seen within this time period. Phorbol ester mimics the effects of BDNF, indicating that protein kinase C (PKC) is either a component of, or feeds into the signalling mechanism. We conclude that BDNF, characterized to be survival promoting early in differentiation of cerebellar granule cells, enhances maturation at a later stage.