Cellular immediate early genes (IEGs) are a class of genes whose transcription is transiently activated within minutes of exposure of cells to a wide range of extracellular stimuli. In mature neurons IEG expression can be triggered by a variety of neutrotransmitters and neurotrophic factors. The IEGs, many of which encode transcription factors, are believed to control the physiological response of the cells to the initial stimulation event by activating secondary programs of gene expression. The mechanism by which membrane depolarization/Ca2+ influx trigger the activation of one IEG, c-fos, has been characterized in PC12 cells. In these cells, the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) functions as a Ca2+ regulated transcription factor. In addition, CREB is an in vitro substrate for several Ca2+ calmodulin-dependent protein kinases (CaM kinases). These results suggest a model whereby activation of voltage sensitive Ca2+ channels stimulates CaM kinase activation leading to CREB phosphorylation and c-fos transcriptional activation.