This review primarily discusses work that has been performed in our laboratories and that of our direct collaborators and therefore does not represent an exhaustive review of the current literature. Our aim is to further discuss the role that gene expression plays in neuronal plasticity and pathology. In the first part of this review we examine activity-dependent changes in the expression of inducible transcription factors (ITFs) and neurotrophins with long-term potentiation (LTP) and kindling. This work has identified particular ITFs (Krox-20 and Krox-24) and neurotrophin systems (particularly the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)/tyrosine receptor kinase-B, Trk-B system) that may be involved in stabilizing long-lasting LTP (i.e. LTP3). We also show that changes in the expression of other ITFs (Fos, Jun-D and Krox-20) and the BDNF/trkB neurotrophin system may play a central role in the development of hippocampal kindling, an animal model of human temporal lobe epilepsy. In the next part of this review we examine changes in gene expression after neuronal injuries (ischemia, prolonged seizure activity and focal brain injury) and after nerve transection (axotomy). We identify apoptosis-related genes (p53, c-Jun, Bax) whose delayed expression selectively increases in degenerating neurons, further suggesting that some forms of neuronal death may involve apoptosis. Moreover, since overexpression of the tumour-suppressor gene p53 induces apoptosis in a wide variety of dividing cell types we speculate that it may perform the same function in post-mitotic neurons following brain injuries. Additionally, we show that neuronal injury is associated with rapid, transient, activity-dependent expression of neurotrophins (BDNF and activinA) in neurons, contrasting with a delayed and more persistent injury-induced expression of certain growth factors (IGF-1 and TGFbeta) in glia. In this section we also describe results linking ITFs and neurotrophic factor expression. Firstly, we show that while BDNF and trkB are induced as immediate-early genes following injury, the injury-induced expression of activinA and trkC may be regulated by ITFs. We also discuss whether loss of retrograde transport of neurotrophic factors such as nerve growth factor following nerve transection triggers the selective and prolonged expression of c-Jun in axotomized neurons and whether c-Jun is responsible for regeneration or degeneration of these axotomized neurons. In the last section we further examine the role that gene expression may play in memory formation, epileptogenesis and neuronal degeneration, lastly speculating whether the expression of various growth factors after brain injury represents an endogenous neuroprotective response of the brain to injury. Here we discuss our results which show that pharmacological enhancement of this response with exogenous application of IGF-1 or TGF-beta reduces neuronal loss after brain injury.