Transcription is a critical component for consolidation of long-term memory. However, relatively few transcriptional mechanisms have been identified for the regulation of gene expression in memory formation. In the current study, we investigated the activity of one specific member of the NF-kappaB transcription factor family, c-Rel, during memory consolidation. We found that contextual fear conditioning elicited a time-dependent increase in nuclear c-Rel levels in area CA1 and DG of hippocampus. These results suggest that c-rel is active in regulating transcription during memory consolidation. To identify the functional role of c-Rel in memory formation, we characterized c-rel(-/-) mice in several behavioral tasks. c-rel(-/-) mice displayed significant deficits in freezing behavior 24 h after training for contextual fear conditioning but showed normal freezing behavior in cued fear conditioning and in short-term contextual fear conditioning. In a novel object recognition test, wild-type littermate mice exhibited a significant preference for a novel object, but c-rel(-/-) mice did not. These results indicate that c-rel(-/-) mice have impaired hippocampus-dependent memory formation. To investigate the role of c-Rel in long-term synaptic plasticity, baseline synaptic transmission and long-term potentiation (LTP) at Schaffer collateral synapses in c-rel(-/-) mice was assessed. c-rel(-/-) slices had normal baseline synaptic transmission but exhibited significantly less LTP than did wild-type littermate slices. Together, our results demonstrate that c-Rel is necessary for long-term synaptic potentiation in vitro and hippocampus-dependent memory formation in vivo.