Oleanolic acid (OA) has neurotrophic effects on neurons, although its use as a neurological drug requires further research. In the present study, we investigated the effects of OA and OA derivatives on the neuronal differentiation of rat hippocampal neural progenitor cells. In addition, we investigated whether the class II histone deacetylase (HDAC) 5 mediates the gene expression induced by OA. We found that OA and OA derivatives induced the formation of neurite spines and the expression of synapse-related molecules. OA and OA derivatives stimulated HDAC5 phosphorylation, and concurrently the nuclear export of HDCA5 and the expression of HDAC5 target genes, indicating that OA and OA derivatives induce neural differentiation and synapse formation via a pathway that involves HDAC5 phosphorylation.