Viral vectors are excellent tools for studying gene function in the brain, although a limitation has been the ability to effectively target transgene expression to specific neuronal populations. This generally cannot be overcome by the use of neuron-specific promoters, as most are too large to be used with current viral vectors and expression from these promoters is often relatively weak. We therefore developed a composite expression cassette, comprising 495 bp of the weak human SYN1 (synapsin-1) promoter and 800 bp of the woodchuck hepatitis virus posttranscriptional regulatory element (WPRE). Studies in hippocampal cultures, organotypic cultures, and in vivo showed that the 3' addition of the WPRE to the SYN1 element greatly increased enhanced green fluorescent protein expression levels with no loss of neuronal specificity. In vivo studies also showed that transgene expression was enhanced with no loss of neuronal specificity in dentate-gyrus neurons for at least 6 weeks following transfection. Therefore, unlike most powerful promoter systems, which mediate expression in neurons and glia, this SYN1-WPRE cassette can target powerful long-term transgene expression to central nervous system neurons when delivered at relatively low titers of adenovirus. Its use should therefore facilitate both gene therapy studies and investigations of neuronal gene function.