Stress triggers important adaptive responses that enable an organism to cope with a changing environment. However, when prolonged or repeated, stress can be extremely harmful. The release of catecholamines is a key initial event in responses to stressors and is followed by an increase in the expression of genes that encode catecholamine-synthesizing enzymes. This process is mediated by transcriptional mechanisms in the adrenal medulla and the locus coeruleus. The persistence of transcriptional activation depends on the duration and repetition of the stress. Recent work has begun to identify the various transcription factors that are associated with brief or intermediate duration of a single or repeated stress. These studies suggest that dynamic interplay is involved in converting the transient increases in the rate of transcription into prolonged (potentially adaptive or maladaptive) changes in gene expression.