Activating transcription factor 5 (ATF5) is a basic-leucine-zipper transcription factor of the ATF/CREB family. The Atf5 gene generates two transcripts, Atf5α and Atf5β, of which Atf5α is known to be selectively translated upon endoplasmic reticulum stress response in non-neuronal cells. ATF5 is highly expressed in the developing brain where it modulates proliferation of neural progenitor cells. These cells show a high level of ATF5 that has to decrease to allow them to differentiate into mature neurons or glial cells. This has led to the extended notion that differentiated neural cells do not express ATF5 unless they undergo tumourigenic transformation. However, no systematic analysis of the distribution of ATF5 in adult brain or of its potential role in neuronal endoplasmic reticulum stress response has been reported. By immunostaining here we confirm highest ATF5 levels in neuroprogenitor cells of the embryonic and adult subventricular zone but also found ATF5 in a large variety of neurons in adult mouse brain. By combining Atf5 in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry for the neuronal marker NeuN we further confirmed Atf5 messenger RNA in adult mouse neurons. Quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction demonstrated that Atf5α is the most abundant transcript in adult mouse encephalon and injection of the endoplasmic reticulum stress inducer tunicamycin into adult mouse brain increased neuronal ATF5 levels. Accordingly, ATF5 levels increased in hippocampal neurons of a mouse model of status epilepticus triggered by intra-amygdala injection of kainic acid, which leads to abnormal hippocampal neuronal activity and endoplasmic reticulum stress. Interestingly, ATF5 upregulation occurred mainly in hippocampal neuronal fields that do not undergo apoptosis in this status epilepticus model such as CA1 and dentate gyrus, thus suggesting a neuroprotective role. This was confirmed in a primary neuronal culture model in which ATF5 overexpression resulted in decreased endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced apoptosis and the opposite result was achieved by Atf5 RNA interference. Furthermore, in vivo administration of the eIF2α phosphatase inhibitor salubrinal resulted in increased ATF5 hippocampal levels and attenuated status epilepticus-induced neuronal death in the vulnerable CA3 subfield. In good agreement with the neuroprotective effect of increased ATF5, we found that apoptosis-resistant epileptogenic foci from patients with temporal lobe epilepsy also showed increased levels of ATF5. Thus, our results demonstrate that adult neurons express ATF5 and that they increase its levels upon endoplasmic reticulum stress as a pro-survival mechanism, thus opening a new field for neuroprotective strategies focused on ATF5 modulation.