Transverse hippocampal slices were cut from 8- to 9-day-old rats and maintained in an interface chamber for periods of 1-4 wk, in tissue culture conditions. Neurons in the slice preserved their spatial organization and connectivity. Dendritic spine density in CA1 neurons was very low at 1 wk in culture, and long, filopodia-like structures were abundant. Spine density increased in these neurons nearly threefold during the course of 3 wk in vitro, to approach values of those of the normal, in vivo hippocampus. The magnitude of long-term potentiation (LTP) of reactivity of Ca1 to stimulation of CA3 neurons also increased during weeks in culture in parallel with the change in spine density. Chronic exposure of slices to drugs that interact with synaptic activity caused changes in their dendritic spine density. Blockade of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors with the receptor antagonist 2-aminophosphonovalerate (D-APV) or blockade of action potential discharges with tetrodotoxin (TTX) prevented dendritic spine development in immature cultures. Enhancing synaptic activity by blockade of GABAergic inhibition with picrotoxin did not affect spine density to a significant degree. D-APV-treated slices expressed larger LTP than controls. TTX-treated slices expressed smaller LTP than controls. Picrotoxin treated slices did not express LTP. It is proposed that LTP and dendritic spine density are correlated strongly during development, whereas they are not correlated in the more mature slice/culture of the hippocampus where spine density can be modulated by chronic exposure to blockers of synaptic activity, which will not affect LTP in a similar manner.