The presence in hippocampus of a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) family of transcription factors (TFs) specifically binding in an electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA) to the E-box recognition element was established by selective blockade of binding both by cold competition and by an antibody to MyoD1, an E-box TF. Protein source was from a micro-dissected preparation enriched in hippocampal granule cells. Specific E-box binding of hippocampal transcription factors was significantly reduced in kainate acid (KA) treated animals. This was observed at 24 and 72 h, but not before (3, 6 h) or after (96 h). This is the first report to our knowledge to study functional regulation of E-box binding protein in adult hippocampus. To determine the generality of this E-box regulatory event, we studied four other situations, in addition to kainate treatment, where axonal growth is known or has been suggested to increase: NGF treatment of PC12 cells, unilateral hilar lesions, long-term potentiation after 1 h, and postnatal rat hippocampal development. In all four cases, decreased E-box binding was observed. The recent link of F1/GAP-43 mRNA induction in hippocampal granule cells by KA to growth of their axons, the mossy fibers in the adult rat, suggests a potential role for the F1/GAP-43 5' flanking promoter region in regulating neurite outgrowth. Since in all cases decreased E-box binding preceded increased F1/GAP-43 mRNA expression, it is suggested that E-box binding to the F1/GAP-43 promoter in hippocampal granule cells could negatively regulate F1/GAP-43 gene expression. Indeed, analysis of recognition elements on the F1/GAP-43 gene revealed an arrangement, previously described in other genes, of multiple adjacent E-box elements. E-box binding of bHLH transcription factors is likely to occur on several different genes in addition to F1/GAP-43. It is, therefore, attractive to think that E-box binding is regulated by in vivo activation of the adult brain and that this gene regulatory event participates in the orchestration of molecular and cellular responses underlying axonal growth.