Prolonged afferent stimulation of the rat dentate gyrus in vivo leads to degeneration only of those cells that lack immunoreactivity for the calcium binding proteins parvalbumin and calbindin. In order to test the hypothesis that calcium binding proteins protect against the effects of prolonged stimulation, intracellular recordings were made in hippocampal slices from cells that lack immunoreactivity for calcium binding proteins. Calcium binding protein-negative cells showed electrophysiological signs of deterioration during prolonged stimulation; cells containing calcium binding protein did not. When neurons without calcium binding proteins were impaled with microelectrodes containing the calcium chelator BAPTA, and BAPTA was allowed to diffuse into the cells, these cells showed no deterioration. These results indicate that, in a complex tissue of the central nervous system, an activity-induced increase in intracellular calcium can trigger processes leading to cell deterioration, and that increasing the calcium binding capacity of a cell decreases its vulnerability to damage.