Studies over the past 20 years have revealed that gene expression in neurons is carried out by a distributed network of translational machinery. One component of this network is localized in dendrites, where polyribosomes and associated membranous elements are positioned beneath synapses and translate a particular population of dendritic mRNAs. The localization of translation machinery and mRNAs at synapses endows individual synapses with the capability to independently control synaptic strength through the local synthesis of proteins. The present review discusses recent studies linking synaptic plasticity to dendritic protein synthesis and mRNA trafficking and considers how these processes are regulated. We summarize recent information about how synaptic signaling is coupled to local translation and to the delivery of newly transcribed mRNAs to activated synaptic sites and how local translation may play a role in activity-dependent synaptic modification.