Neurons may be particularly sensitive to disruptions in transcription factor trafficking. Survival and injury signals must traverse dendrites or axons, in addition to soma, to affect nuclear transcriptional responses. Transcription factors exhibit continued nucleocytoplasmic shuttling; the predominant localization is regulated by binding to anchoring proteins that mask nuclear localization/export signals and/or target the factor for degradation. Two functional groups of karyopherins, importins and exportins, mediate RanGTPase-dependent transport through the nuclear pore. A growing number of recent studies, in Alzheimer, Parkinson, and Lewy body diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and human immunodeficiency virus encephalitis, implicate aberrant cytoplasmic localization of transcription factors and their regulatory kinases in degenerating neurons. Potential mechanisms include impaired nuclear import, enhanced export, suppression of degradation, and sequestration in protein aggregates or organelles and may reflect unmasking of alternative cytoplasmic functions, both physiologic and pathologic. Some "nuclear" factors also function in mitochondria, and importins are also involved in axonal protein trafficking. Detrimental consequences of a decreased nuclear to cytoplasmic balance include suppression of neuroprotective transcription mediated by cAMP- and electrophile/antioxidant-response elements and gain of toxic cytoplasmic effects. Studying the pathophysiologic mechanisms regulating transcription factor localization should facilitate strategies to bypass deficits and restore adaptive neuroprotective transcriptional responses.