Environmental factors are known to regulate the molecular differentiation of neocortical interneurons. Their class-defining transmitter synthetic enzymes are the glutamic acid decarboxylases (GAD); yet, fairly little is known about the developmental regulation of transcription and translation of the GAD-65/67 isoforms. We have characterized the role of neuronal activity, neurotrophins and afferent systems for GAD-65/67 expression in visual cortex in organotypic cultures (OTC) compared with in vivo in order to identify cortex-intrinsic regulatory mechanisms. Spontaneously active OTC prepared at postnatal day 0 displayed from 10 days in vitro (DIV) onwards 12–14% GAD-65/GAD-67 neurons similar to in vivo. However, GAD-65 mRNA was higher, whereas GAD-67 protein was lower, than in vivo. During the first week neurotrophins increased whereas the Trk receptor inhibitor K252a and MEK inhibitors decreased both GAD mRNAs and proteins. After 10 DIV GAD expression no longer depended on neurotrophin signalling. Activity-deprived OTC revealed only 6% GAD-67 neurons and mRNA and protein were reduced by 50%. GAD-65 mRNA was less reduced, but protein was reduced by half, suggesting translational regulation. Upon recovery of activity GAD mRNAs, cell numbers, and both proteins quickly returned to normal and these ‘adult’ levels were resistant to late-onset deprivation. In 20 DIV activity-deprived OTC, only neurotrophin 4 increased GAD-65/67 mRNAs, rescued the percentage of GAD-67 neurons and increased both proteins in a TrkB-dependent manner. Activity deprivation had thus shifted the period of neurotrophin sensitivity to older ages. The results suggested neuronal activity as a major regulator differentially affecting transcription and translation of the GAD isoforms. The early presence of neuronal activity promoted the GAD expression in OTC to a neurotrophin-independent state suggesting that neurotrophins play a context-dependent role.