Analyses of early molecular and cellular events associated with long-term plasticity remain hampered in Drosophila by the lack of an acute procedure to activate signal transduction pathways, gene expression patterns, and other early cellular events associated with long-term synaptic change. Here we describe the development and first use of such a technique. Bursts of neural activity induced in Drosophila comatosets and CaP60A Kumts mutants, with conditional defects in N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive fusion factor 1 and sarco-endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ ATPase, respectively, result in persistent (>4 hr) activation of neuronal extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). ERK activation at the larval neuromuscular junction coincides with rapid reduction of synaptic Fasciclin II; in soma, nuclear translocation of activated ERK occurs together with increased transcription of the immediate-early genes Fos and c/EBP (CCAAT element binding protein). The effect of "seizure-stimulation" on ERK activation requires neural activity and is mediated through activation of MEK (MAPK/erk kinase), the MAPKK (mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase) that functions upstream of ERK. Our results (1) provide direct proof for the conservation of synaptic signaling pathways in arthropods, (2) demonstrate the utility of a new genetic tool for analysis of synaptic plasticity in Drosophila, and (3) potentially enable new proteomic and genomic analyses of activity-regulated molecules in an important model organism.