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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2013, Article ID 683909, 12 pages
Review Article

Activity-Dependent NPAS4 Expression and the Regulation of Gene Programs Underlying Plasticity in the Central Nervous System

1Centre for Nanotechnology Innovation, Italian Institute of Technology, Piazza San Silvestro 12, 56127 Pisa, Italy
2Centre for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems, Italian Institute of Technology, Corso Bettini 31, 38068 Rovereto, Italy

Received 5 May 2013; Accepted 9 July 2013

Academic Editor: Alessandro Sale

Copyright © 2013 José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The capability of the brain to change functionally in response to sensory experience is most active during early stages of development but it decreases later in life when major alterations of neuronal network structures no longer take place in response to experience. This view has been recently challenged by experimental strategies based on the enhancement of environmental stimulation levels, genetic manipulations, and pharmacological treatments, which all have demonstrated that the adult brain retains a degree of plasticity that allows for a rewiring of neuronal circuitries over the entire life course. A hot spot in the field of neuronal plasticity centres on gene programs that underlie plastic phenomena in adulthood. Here, I discuss the role of the recently discovered neuronal-specific and activity-dependent transcription factor NPAS4 as a critical mediator of plasticity in the nervous system. A better understanding of how modifications in the connectivity of neuronal networks occur may shed light on the treatment of pathological conditions such as brain damage or disease in adult life, some of which were once considered untreatable.