Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is highly expressed in the developing brain. It has anti-apoptotic abilities, and protects the neonatal brain. In experimental settings in adult animals, pre-treatment with nicotine has shown increased BDNF levels, indicating a possible contribution to nicotine's anti-apoptotic effect. Apoptosis contributes to the development of brain damage in perinatal asphyxia. We examined the effects of nicotine on apoptosis-inducing factor (AIF), caspase-3 and BDNF in the hippocampus of a neonatal piglet model of global hypoxia. Forty-one anesthetized newborn piglets were randomized to one of four groups receiving different infusions after hypoxia (1) nicotine 130 μg/kg/h, 2) 260 μg/kg/h, 3) adrenaline, and 4) saline, all 2.6 mL/kg/h. Four hours after hypoxia they were euthanized. The left hemisphere/hippocampus was examined by histopathology and immunohistochemistry; the right hippocampus was analyzed using real time PCR. There was a significantly higher expression of BDNF mRNA and protein in the animals treated with nicotine 130 μg/kg/h vs. the saline treated group (mRNA P = 0.038; protein P = 0.009). There were no differences regarding AIF or caspase-3. We conclude that nicotine (130 μg/kg/h), infused over 1 h after global hypoxia in neonatal piglets, increases levels of both BDNF mRNA and protein in the hippocampus. This might imply neuroprotective effects of nicotine in asphyxiated neonates.