Intracellular calcium concentrations ([Ca2+]i) among cultured hippocampal neurons were monitored during and in the hours following an excitotoxic glutamate application to determine the time course of changes involved in delayed excitotoxicity. After a 5 min toxic insult, [Ca2+]i increased immediately and remained elevated for an hour. Subsequently, [Ca2+]i declined to normal resting levels and remained so up to 13 hr following insult. Only a few neurons displayed greatly elevated [Ca2+]i at these extended times. Survival experiments in sister cultures indicated that 85% of the neurons died after 24 hr. Therefore, intracellular calcium returned to baseline levels prior to neuronal death. Additionally, during this period when basal calcium levels had recovered, the majority of neurons responded to a second excitatory amino acid application with a second increase in [Ca2+]i.