Glycoprotein 120 (gp120) from the T-tropic strain of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 has been shown to cause neuronal apoptosis through activation of the chemokine receptor CXCR4. Therefore, reducing CXCR4 expression may prevent gp120-mediated apoptosis. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is known to reduce both gp120 neurotoxicity and CXCR4 expression in vitro. The scope of this work is to establish whether BDNF is neuroprotective against gp120 in vivo and, if so, whether this effect correlates with its ability to down-regulate CXCR4. Serotype 2 adeno-associated viral vector encoding for BDNF (rAAV-BDNF) or control vector was microinjected into the striata of adult rats. Two weeks later gp120 was injected into the same striatum, and apoptosis determined. Pretreatment with rAAV-BDNF prior to gp120 microinjection prevented caspase-3 activation as well as in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase biotin–dUTP nick end labelling in the striatum and substantia nigra. In addition, rAAV-BDNF reversed the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity induced by gp120 in both areas. CXCR4 expression was then determined by immunohistochemistry and RT-PCR, and found to be decreased in striata of rAAV-BDNF-treated rats. Conversely, BDNF heterozygous mice exhibited an increase in CXCR4 mRNA levels compared to wild-type littermates. Our data suggest that down-regulation of CXCR4 expression may contribute to the neuroprotective activity of BDNF against gp120 toxicity in the basal ganglia.