A key characteristic of an animal's nervous system is that it can respond to brief environmental stimuli with lasting changes in its structure and function. These changes are triggered by specific patterns of neuronal electrical activity and are manifested as changes in the strength and patterns of synaptic connectivity between activated neurons. The biochemical mechanisms that control these changes are unclear, but cytoplasmic rises in Ca2+ levels may play a critical role, especially in regulating neuronal gene expression for making activity-induced synaptic changes permanent. Recently, two reports have explored the spatial features by which activity-induced rises in Ca2+ levels activate transcription factors and gene expression. The reports suggest that Ca2+ influx acts both locally at the synapse and distantly within the nucleus to regulate transcription factors and gene expression. The results also show that regulatory elements within genes can respond differentially, depending on spatial differences in intracellular Ca2+ rises. These reports suggest new spatial mechanisms by which Ca(2+)-dependent gene expression could contribute to activity-dependent synaptic changes.