Neurotrophins exert short- and long-term effects on synaptic transmission. The mechanism underlying these forms of synaptic plasticity is unknown although it is likely that intracellular Ca2+ and presynaptic Ca2+ channels play a critical role. Here we show that BDNF, NGF and NT-3 (10–100 ng/mL) exhibit a selective long-term up-regulation of voltage-gated Ca2+ current densities in developing hippocampal neurons of 6–20 days in culture. NGF and NT-3 appear more effective in up-regulating L-currents, while BDNF predominantly acts on non-L-currents (N, P/Q and R). The effects of the three neurotrophins were time- and dose-dependent. The EC50 was comparable for BDNF, NGF and NT-3 (10–16 ng/mL) while the time of half-maximal activation was significantly longer for NGF compared to BDNF (58 vs. 25 h). Despite the increased Ca2+ current density, the neurotrophins did not alter the voltage-dependence of channel activation, the kinetics parameters or the elementary properties of Ca2+ channels (single-channel conductance, probability of opening and mean open time). Neurotrophin effects were completely abolished by coincubation with the nonspecific Trk-receptor inhibitor K252a, the protein synthesis blocker anisomycin and the MAP-kinase inhibitor PD98059, while cotreatment with the PLC-γ blocker, U73122, was without effect. Immunocytochemistry and Western blotting revealed that neurotrophins induced an increased MAP-kinase phosphorylation and its translocation to the nucleus. The present findings suggest that on a long time scale different neurotrophins can selectively up-regulate different Ca2+ channels. The action is mediated by Trk-receptors/MAP-kinase pathways and induces an increased density of newly available Ca2+ channels with unaltered gating activity.