Recent studies have shown that the activation of NMDA receptors can induce rapid changes in dendritic morphology and synaptic recruitment of AMPA receptors in dendritic spines. Here, we analyze the time course of NMDA receptor-induced changes in dendrite morphology and recruitment of AMPA receptors to synapses in cultured neurons. Activation of NMDA receptors causes a rapid transient increase in the size of preexisting spines and then the gradual formation of new dendritic protrusions and spines. NMDA receptor activation also induced GFP-tagged AMPA receptors to cluster in dendrites and to be inserted into the surface of dendritic spines. These results indicate that NMDA receptor activation induces several phases of dendritic plasticity, initial expansion of dendritic spines, followed by the de novo formation of spines and AMPA receptor dendritic clustering and surface expression on spines. Each of these forms of plasticity may have significant effects on the efficacy of synaptic transmission.