Glutamate stimulation of hippocampal CA1 neurons in slice was delivered via iontophoresis from a microelectrode. Five pulses (approximately 5 muA, 10 s duration, repeated at 1 min intervals) were applied with the electrode tip positioned in the stratum radiatum near the dendrites of a neuron filled with the Ca(2+) indicator fura-2. A single stimulus set produced Ca(2+) elevations that ranged from several hundred nM to several microM and that, in all but a few neurons, recovered within 1 min of stimulus termination. Subsequent identical stimulation produced Ca(2+) elevations that outlasted the local glutamate elevations by several minutes as judged by response recoveries in neighboring cells or in other parts of the same neuron. These long responses ultimately recovered but persisted for up to 10 min and were most prominent in the mid and distal dendrites. Recovery was not observed for responses that spread to the soma. The elevated Ca(2+) levels were accompanied by membrane depolarization but did not appear to depend on the depolarization. High-resolution images demonstrated responsive areas that involved only a few mu(m) of dendrite. Our results confirm the previous general findings from isolated and cell culture neurons that glutamate stimulation, if carried beyond a certain range, results in long-lasting Ca(2+) elevation. The response characterized here in mature in situ neurons was significantly different in terms of time course and reversibility. We suggest that the extended Ca(2+) elevations might serve not only as a trigger for delayed neuron death but, where more spatially restricted, as a signal for local remodeling in dendrites.