Since its discovery, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has spawned a literature that now spans 35 years of research. While all neurotrophins share considerable overlap in sequence homology and their processing, BDNF has become the most widely studied neurotrophin because of its broad roles in brain homeostasis, health, and disease. Although research on BDNF has produced thousands of articles, there remain numerous long-standing questions on aspects of BDNF molecular biology and signaling. Here we provide a comprehensive review, including both a historical narrative and a forward-looking perspective on advances in the actions of BDNF within the brain. We specifically review BDNF's gene structure, peptide composition (including domains, posttranslational modifications and putative motif sites), mechanisms of transport, signaling pathway recruitment, and other recent developments including the functional effects of genetic variation and the discovery of a new BDNF prodomain ligand. This body of knowledge illustrates a highly conserved and complex role for BDNF within the brain, that promotes the idea that the neurotrophin biology of BDNF is diverse and that any disease involvement is likely to be equally multifarious.