Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), a neuropeptide that acts through G protein-coupled receptors, exerts neuroprotective effects upon many neuronal populations. However, the intracellular signaling mechanisms that account for PACAP's trophic effects are not well characterized. Here we have tested the possibility that PACAP uses neurotrophin signaling pathways. We have found that PACAP treatment resulted in an increase in TrkA tyrosine kinase activity in PC12 cells and TrkB activity in hippocampal neurons. The activation of TrkA receptors by PACAP required at least 1 h of treatment and did not involve binding to nerve growth factor. Moreover, PACAP induced an increase in activated Akt through a Trk-dependent mechanism that resulted in increased cell survival after trophic factor withdrawal. The increases in Trk and Akt were blocked by K252a, an inhibitor of Trk receptor activity. In addition, transactivation of TrkA receptors by PACAP could be inhibited with PPI, an inhibitor of Src family kinases or BAPTA/AM, (1,2-bis(2-aminophenoxy)ethane-N,N,N,N-tetraacetic acid acetoxymethyl ester), an intracellular calcium chelator. Therefore, PACAP can exert trophic effects through a mechanism involving Trk receptors and utilization of tyrosine kinase signaling. This ability may explain several neuroprotective actions of PACAP upon neuronal populations after injury, nerve lesion, or neurotrophin deprivation.