The relevant parameters of calcium fluxes mediating activation of immediate-early genes and the collapse of growth cones in mouse DRG neurons in response to action potentials delivered in different temporal patterns were measured in a multicompartment cell culture preparation using digital fluorescence videomicroscopy. Growth cone collapse was produced by trains of action potentials causing a large rise in [Ca2+]i, but after chronic exposure to patterned stimulation growth cones regenerated and became insensitive to the stimulus-induced increase in [Ca2+]i. Calcium reached similar peak concentrations, but the [Ca2+]i increased more slowly than in naive growth cones (time constant of 6.0 s versus 1.4 s in naive growth cones). Semiquantitative PCR measurements of gene expression showed that pulsed stimulation delivered at 1-min intervals for 30 min induced expression of c-fos, but the same total number of action potentials delivered at 2-min intervals failed to induce c-fos expression, even though this stimulus induces a larger peak [Ca2+]i than the effective stimulus pattern. The experiments suggest that the kinetics of calcium fluxes produced by different patterns of stimulation, and changes in the kinetics of calcium flux in neurons under different states of activation, are critical in determining the effects of action potentials on growth cone motility or expression of IE genes during development of neuronal circuits. We propose that differences in kinetics of individual reactions in the stimulus-response pathway may lead to resonance of activation in the neuron, such that certain processes will be selectively activated by particular temporal patterns of stimulation.