The transcription factor Elk-1 plays a key role in cell differentiation, proliferation and apoptosis. This role is thought to arise from its phosphorylation by activated extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs), a critical posttranslational event for the transcriptional activity of the ternary complex composed of Elk-1 and a dimer of serum response factor (SRF) at the serum response element (SRE) regulatory site of transcription. In addition to its nuclear localization, Elk-1 is found in the dendrites and soma of neuronal cells and recent evidence implicate a cytoplasmic proapoptotic function of Elk-1, via its association with the mitochondrial permeability transition pore complex. Thus, the nuclear versus cytoplasmic localization of Elk-1 seems to be crucial for its biological function. In this study we show that the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate, induces an ERK-dependent Elk-1 activation and nuclear relocalization. We demonstrate that Elk-1 phosphorylation on Ser383/389 has a dual function and triggers both Elk-1 nuclear translocation and SRE-dependent gene expression. Mutating these sites into inactive residues or using a synthetic penetrating peptide (TAT-DEF-Elk-1), which specifically interferes with the DEF docking domain of Elk-1, prevents Elk-1 nuclear translocation without interfering with ERK nor MSK1 (mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase 1), a CREB kinase downstream from ERK- activation. This results in a differential regulation of glutamate-induced IEG regulation when compared with classical inhibitors of the ERK pathway. Using the TAT-DEF-Elk-1 peptide or the dominant-negative version of Elk-1, we show that Elk-1 phosphorylation controls dendritic elongation, SRF and Actin expression levels as well as cytoskeleton dynamics.