c-Fos as a transcription factor: a stressful (re)view from a functional map

Neurochem Int. 1998 Oct;33(4):287-97. doi: 10.1016/s0197-0186(98)00023-0.


This article summarizes the achievements that have been accumulated about the role of c-Fos as a transcription factor and as a functional marker of activated neurons. Since its discovery, more than a decade ago, as an inducible immediate-early gene encoding a transcription factor, or third messenger, involved in stimulus-transcription coupling and mediation of extracellular signals to long-term changes in cellular phenotype, c-fos became the most widely used powerful tool to delineate individual neurons as well as extended circuitries that are responsive to wide variety of external stimuli. There still remain uncertainties as to how general is the c-fos induction in the central neurons, and whether the threshold of c-fos induction is comparable along a certain neuronal circuit. The major limitation of this technology is that c-fos does not mark cells with a net inhibitory synaptic or transcriptional drive, and c-fos induction, as a generic marker of trans-synaptic activation, does not provide evidence for transcriptional activation of specific target genes in a certain cell type of interest. The first part of the review focuses on recent functional data on c-fos as transcription factor, while the second part discusses c-fos as a cellular marker of transcriptional activity in the stress-related circuitry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Transcription Factors