Neuronal activity is required for normal neural development. Excessive activity can cause abnormal growth of neural processes and may contribute to formation of epileptic foci. Using PC12 cells, we investigated mechanisms by which depolarization regulates neurite growth. Depolarization with 45 mM KCl induced neurite outgrowth only if NGF receptors were partly activated by overexpression of p140trkA or by treatment with a low concentration of NGF that alone was insufficient to stimulate neurite formation. Depolarization-induced neurite growth was reduced by inhibitors of L-type Ca2+ channels, Ca2+/calmodulin- dependent protein (CaM) kinases II and IV, and transcription. These results identify a novel mechanism by which depolarizing stimuli synergize with subthreshold activation of NGF receptors to induce neurite growth through a Ca2+ and CaM kinase-dependent signal transduction pathway.