Calcium imaging techniques were used to obtain a clear although indirect evidence about the distribution of functional glutamate receptors of NMDA and non-NMDA type in cultured hippocampal neurons during establishment of polarity and synaptogenesis. Glutamate receptors were expressed and were already functional as early as one day after plating. At this stage NMDA and non-NMDA receptors were distributed in all plasmalemmal areas. During the establishment of neuronal polarity, responses to either types of glutamate receptors became restricted to the soma and dendrites. Compartmentalization of glutamate receptors occurred at stages of development when synaptic vesicles were already fully segregated to the axon. Formation of synapses was accompanied by a further redistribution of receptors, which segregated to synapse-enriched portions of dendrites. Receptor compartmentalization and dendritic redistribution as well as accumulation of synaptic vesicles at synaptic sites occurred also in neurons cultured in the presence of either the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin or glutamate receptor antagonists. These results indicate that signals generated by neuronal electrical activity or receptor activation are not involved in the establishment of neuronal polarity and synaptogenesis.

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