Electrical stimulation causes growth cones of mouse dorsal root ganglion neurons to collapse. During chronic stimulation, however, growth cones resume motility. In addition, these growth cones are now resistant to the collapsing effects of subsequent stimulation, a process we term accommodation. We compared the kinetics of electrically induced Ca2+ transients in naive and accommodated growth cones in order to determine whether the accommodation process results from a change in the Ca2+ transient, or a change in the Ca2+ sensitivity of the growth cones. Three kinetics were determined: (1) the initial increase to peak Ca2+ levels produced by 10 Hz stimulation; (2) recovery from peak Ca2+ levels during stimulus trains lasting 15 min; and (3) clearing of Ca2+ from growth cones after terminating the stimulus. These kinetics were analyzed using single exponential fits to changes in fura-2 fluorescence ratios. The electrically evoked increase in Ca2+ was significantly slower in accommodated growth cones (tau = 6.0 s) compared to naive growth cones (tau = 1.4 s). Despite the slower increase of [Ca2+]i in accommodated growth cones, peak [Ca2+]i was similar to that reached in naive growth cones, and the steady-state Ca2+ level was significantly elevated after chronic stimulation. Thus, accommodated growth cones maintained outgrowth at [Ca2+]i that caused collapse initially. Time course experiments show that accommodation is a slow process (t 1/2 = about 3 h). Accommodation did not induce measurable changes in the rates of Ca2+ homeostasis during or after stimulus trains. The kinetics of Ca2+ recovery during (tau = 90 s) and after 15 min of stimulation (tau = 8.5 s) was not significantly different in accommodated versus naive growth cones. Rates of 45Ca2+ efflux were also similar in both types of growth cones. These results suggest two regulatory processes contributing to growth cone motility during chronic stimulation: (1) recovery of [Ca2+]i to levels permissive to neurite outgrowth, and (2) an increase in the range of optimal [Ca2+]i for growth cone motility. These adaptive responses of mammalian growth cones to chronic stimulation could be involved in the modulation of CNS development by electrical activity of neurons.