Learning-induced trophic activity is thought to be critical for maintaining health of the aging brain. We report here that learning, acting through an unexpected pathway, activates synaptic receptors for one of the brain's primary trophic factors. Unsupervised learning, but not exploratory activity alone, robustly increased the number of postsynaptic densities associated with activated (phosphorylated) forms of BDNF's TrkB receptor in adult rat hippocampus; these increases were blocked by an NMDA receptor antagonist. Similarly, stimulation of hippocampal slices at the learning-related theta frequency increased synaptic TrkB phosphorylation in an NMDA receptor-dependent fashion. Theta burst stimulation, which was more effective in this regard than other stimulation patterns, preferentially engaged NMDA receptors that, in turn, activated Src kinases. Blocking the latter, or scavenging extracellular TrkB ligands, prevented theta-induced TrkB phosphorylation. Thus, synaptic TrkB activation was dependent upon both ligand presentation and postsynaptic signaling cascades. These results show that afferent activity patterns and cellular events involved in memory encoding initiate BDNF signaling through synaptic TrkB, thereby ensuring that learning will trigger neurotrophic support.