Neurotransmitters are potential regulators of proliferation and differentiation of neural progenitor cells (NPC). To gain insight into the dynamics of neurotransmitter responsiveness, neurospheres were prepared from the lateral ventricles of postnatal day 6/7 mice. Individual NPCs migrating out from spheres were simultaneously monitored using Ca(2+) imaging, during the initial 8 days of differentiation, at an area between the inner edge of the sphere and outer periphery of the area of migration. At the first day of differentiation most cells showed metabotropic responses (Ca(2+) discharge from stores) to glutamate (pharmacologically identified as metabotropic glutamate receptor 5, mGluR 5), norepinephrine (NE), acetylcholine (Ach) and ATP, and a smaller proportion of cells also responded to substance P (SP). When outside the neurosphere, many of mGluR5 responding cells gained immunostaining for markers of neuronal lineage (Tuj-1 and NeuN). The number of cells responding through mGluR5 (and responses to Ach, NE and SP) showed during subsequent days of differentiation (day 2-3 onwards) a decline with time and progressively disappeared at the outer periphery of the area of migration. Conversely the number ionotropic glutamate responses as well as responses to depolarization increased in this area. After 5-8 days of differentiation mGluR5 responses could only be observed at the very inner edge of the neurosphere. At 8 days the migrated cells showed very robust ionotropic responses to glutamate, NMDA and depolarization comparable to mature neurons. Taken together, the data presented here suggest that differentiation of NPCs is a dynamic process triggered by cell migration, which leads to a loss of regulatory influences imposed by the inner milieu of the neurosphere. The subsequent switch or loss of metabotropic responses to glutamate, SP, NE, Ach and ATP with the gain of excitable characteristics such as ionotropic responses appears to be a key event in the final differentiation process.