Excessive glutamate (Glu) stimulation of the NMDA-R is a widely recognized trigger for Ca(2+)-mediated excitotoxicity. Primary neurons typically show a large increase in vulnerability to excitotoxicity with increasing days in vitro (DIV). This enhanced vulnerability has been associated with increased expression of the NR2B subunit or increased NMDA-R current, but the detailed age-courses of these variables in primary hippocampal neurons have not been compared in the same study. Further, it is not clear whether the NMDA-R is the only source of excess Ca(2+). Here, we used primary hippocampal neurons to examine the age dependence of the increase in excitotoxic vulnerability with changes in NMDA-R current, and subunit expression. We also tested whether L-type voltage-gated Ca(2+) channels (L-VGCCs) contribute to the enhanced vulnerability. The EC(50) for Glu toxicity decreased by approximately 10-fold between 8-9 and 14-15 DIV, changing little thereafter. Parallel experiments found that during the same period both amplitude and duration of NMDA-R current increased dramatically; this was associated with an increase in protein expression of the NR1 and NR2A subunits, but not of the NR2B subunit. Compared to MK-801, ifenprodil, a selective NR2B antagonist, was less effective in protecting older than younger neurons from Glu insult. Conversely, nimodipine, an L-VGCC antagonist, protected older but not younger neurons. Our results indicate that enhanced excitotoxic vulnerability with age in culture was associated with a substantial increase in NMDA-R current, concomitant increases in NR2A and NR1 but not NR2B subunit expression, and with apparent recruitment of L-VGCCs into the excitotoxic process.