The hippocampus is especially vulnerable to seizure-induced damage and excitotoxic neuronal injury. This study examined the time course of neuronal death in relationship to seizure duration and the pharmacological mechanisms underlying seizure-induced cell death using low magnesium (Mg2+) induced continuous high frequency epileptiform discharges (in vitro status epilepticus) in hippocampal neuronal cultures. Neuronal death was assessed using cell morphology and fluorescein diacetate-propidium iodide staining. Effects of low Mg2+ and various receptor antagonists on spike frequency were assessed using patch clamp electrophysiology. We observed a linear and time-dependent increase in neuronal death with increasing durations of status epilepticus. This cell death was dependent upon extracellular calcium (Ca2+) that entered primarily through the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor channel subtype. Neuronal death was significantly decreased by co-incubation with the NMDA receptor antagonists and was also inhibited by reduction of extracellular (Ca2+) during status epilepticus. In contrast, neuronal death from in vitro status epilepticus was not significantly prevented by inhibition of other glutamate receptor subtypes or voltage-gated Ca2+ channels. Interestingly this NMDA-Ca2+ dependent neuronal death was much more gradual in onset compared to cell death from excitotoxic glutamate exposure. The results provide evidence that in vitro status epilepticus results in increased activation of the NMDA-Ca2+ transduction pathway leading to neuronal death in a time-dependent fashion. The results also indicate that there is a significant window of opportunity during the initial time of continuous seizure activity to be able to intervene, protect neurons and decrease the high morbidity and mortality associated with status epilepticus.