Dentate granule cells (DGCs) are the principal cell population of the hippocampal dentate gyrus, and granule cells provide the main excitation to the hippocampus proper via their mossy fibers axons. Although it is well established that granule cells express various growth factors and growth factor receptors, the functional effects of growth factors on the normal development and response to injury of granule cells are relatively unknown. To address this question, primary cultures enriched in DGCs were prepared by microdissecting hippocampal slices from neonatal rats and growing dissociated cells in defined media with added nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), neurotrophin-4/5 (NT4/5), ciliary neurotrophic factor, basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), or vehicle. The effects on cell survival and morphology were quantified by studying neuron-specific enolase-immunostained cells at various time points, plating densities, host ages, and growth factor concentrations. BDNF or bFGF significantly increased both neuronal survival and differentiation by 30–80% compared with control cultures. Maximal effects were observed at relatively longer time points (5–12 d), with younger cells (postnatal day 3–5) and at lowest plating densities. Addition of a trkB- IgG fusion protein that blocks the activity of BDNF or NT4/5 inhibited the effects of BDNF and attenuated the differentiation of cells cultured at high plating densities. Furthermore, treatment of cultures with the kinase inhibitor K252b specifically blocked the effects of BDNF, suggesting involvement of trkB (the high-affinity BDNF receptor) in BDNF-induced differentiation. These results show that growth properties of cultured neonatal DGCs are influenced by exogenously applied BDNF or bFGF in a time-, age-, and density-dependent manner. The effect of plating density suggests an endogenous expression of growth factors in these culture conditions, and this is mediated in part by endogenous BDNF acting via a tyrosine kinase receptor. Combined with previous work showing that various growth factors and their receptors are expressed by DGCs, these findings provide strong support for the hypothesis that BDNF and bFGF influence both the growth and development of DGCs in vivo.