Activity-dependent changes in synapses rely on functional changes in resident proteins and on gene expression. We addressed the relationship between synapse activity and the expression of synaptic genes by comparing RNA levels in the neocortex of normal mice versus secretion-deficient and therefore synaptically silent munc18-1 (mammalian homologue of Caenorhabditis elegans uncoordinated locomotion-18) null mutants, using microarray expression analysis, real-time quantitative PCR and northern blotting. We hypothesized that genes under the control of synaptic activity would be differentially expressed between mutants and controls. We found that few synaptic genes were differentially expressed. However, most neuropeptide genes with detectable expression on the microarray were differentially expressed, being expressed 3-20-fold higher in control cortex. Several other secreted proteins were also differentially expressed, but genes encoding their receptors and many other synaptic components were not. Differential expression was confirmed by real-time quantitative PCR analysis. In situ hybridization indicated that the difference in neuropeptide expression was uniform and not due to the loss of specific cells in the mutant. In primary sensory neurons, which do not depend on synaptic activity for their input, the differential expression of neuropeptides was not observed. These data argue against a general relationship between the activity of synapses and the expression of their resident proteins, but suggest a link between secretion and the expression of genes encoding the secreted products. © 2006 The Authors.