Neuronal activity is a requirement for the plasticity and normal development of the central nervous system. We have used differential cloning techniques to identify an immediate-early gene (IEG) that is rapidly induced in neurons by activity in both adult and developmental models of plasticity. Here we describe the key regulatory enzyme of polyamine catabolism, spermidine/spermine N1-acetyltransferase (SSAT), as a neuronal IEG. In the rat brain, kainate-induced seizures result in a 5.5-fold increase in the amount of SSAT mRNA above basal levels and the enzymatic activity is increased twofold. Expression of SSAT mRNA is rapidly and transiently upregulated in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus by seizure-induced neuronal activation. In hippocampal neurons, SSAT expression is dynamically responsive to synaptic activity in the long-term potentiation (LTP) paradigm. In developing brain, region-specific expression of SSAT mRNA is first detected at postnatal day 9 (P9) and subsequently increases through days P15, P20, before reaching maximal level in adult animals. This dynamic transcriptional and translational control suggests that SSAT may play a role in activity-dependent neuronal plasticity and development.