Excitotoxic neuronal injury is known to be associated with increases in cytosolic calcium ion concentrations. However, it is not known if perturbations in other intracellular ions are also associated with glutamate (GLU)-induced neuronal death. Accordingly, intracellular hydrogen ion concentrations were measured in cultured hippocampal neurons with the fluorescent dye BCECF during and after toxic exposures. Five minute GLU applications produced an initial cytosolic acidification. During the hour after GLU removal, intracellular pH (pHi) recovered steadily, resulting in a rebound cytosolic alkalinization. Lowering extracellular calcium depressed the initial GLU-induced acidification, suggesting that the rapid acidification may result partly as a consequence of calcium entry. An acidification- induced rebound alkalinization appeared to be activated by GLU exposure. Inhibitors of intracellular pH regulation, harmaline, 4,4′- disothiocyanatostilbene-2,2′-disulfonic acid (DIDS), and replacement of external Na+ with N-methyl-glucamine+ (NMG+), retarded the rate of recovery from GLU-induced acidification. The rapid acidification and rebound alkalinization could be mimicked by challenging neurons with elevated external K+ or replacement of external Na+ with NMG+. Two or more hours following toxic GLU exposure, hydrogen ion concentration did not stabilize at initial levels but progressively increased. High K+ or Na+ removal did not produce this long-term acidification and were not toxic. The cumulative increase in intracellular hydrogen ion may reflect the declining health of injured neurons and could contribute directly to neuronal death. Therefore, cytosolic acidification may act synergistically with increases in calcium concentration in mediating excitotoxicity.