Depression and suicidal behavior have recently been shown to be associated with disturbances in structural and synaptic plasticity. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), one of the major neurotrophic factors, plays an important role in the maintenance and survival of neurons and in synaptic plasticity. Several lines of evidence suggest that BDNF is involved in depression, such that the expression of BDNF is decreased in depressed patients. In addition, antidepressants up-regulate the expression of BDNF. This has led to the proposal of the "neurotrophin hypothesis of depression". Increasing evidence demonstrates that suicidal behavior is also associated with lower expression of BDNF, which may be independent from depression. Recent genetic studies also support a link of BDNF to depression/suicidal behavior. Not only BDNF, but abnormalities in its cognate receptor tropomycin receptor kinase B (TrkB) and its splice variant (TrkB.T1) have also been reported in depressed/suicidal patients. It has been suggested that epigenetic modulation of the Bdnf and Trkb genes may contribute to their altered expression and functioning. More recently, impairment in the functioning of pan75 neurotrophin receptor has been reported in suicide brain specimens. pan75 neurotrophin receptor is a low-affinity neurotrophin receptor that, when expressed in conjunction with low availability of neurotropins/Trks, induces apoptosis. Overall, these studies suggest the possibility that BDNF and its mediated signaling may participate in the pathophysiology of depression and suicidal behavior. This review focuses on the critical evidence demonstrating the involvement of BDNF in depression and suicide. © 2009 Dwivedi, publisher and licensee Dove Medical Press Ltd.