Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a potent survival and developmental factor that is regulated by cyclic AMP-response element binding protein (CREB) and has a protective effect against retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death. However, the effect of BDNF on the optic nerve axonal degeneration remains to be examined. In this study, we show that intravitreal injection of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α induces transient increases in phosphorylated-CREB (p-CREB) and BDNF expression in the optic nerve. Administration of exogenous BDNF further increased the p-CREB and endogenous BDNF level and exerted a neuroprotective effect against TNF-α-induced axonal loss. The increases in BDNF mRNA and protein induced by TNF-α were inhibited significantly by a CRE decoy oligonucleotide. The protective effect of exogenous BDNF on axons was also inhibited by the CRE decoy oligonucleotide. These results suggest that the protective effect of exogenous BDNF may be associated with increases in CREB phosphorylation and endogenous BDNF in the optic nerve.