Changes in the morphology of dendritic spines are correlated with synaptic plasticity and may relate mechanistically to its expression and stabilization. Recent work has shown that spine length can be altered by manipulations that affect intracellular calcium, and spine length is abnormal in genetic conditions affecting protein synthesis in neurons. We have investigated how ligands of group 1 metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) affect spine shape; stimulation of these receptors leads both to calcium release from intracellular stores and to dendritic protein synthesis. Thirty-minute incubation of cultured hippocampal slices and dissociated neurons with the selective group 1 mGluR agonist (S)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine (DHPG) induced a significant increase in the average length of dendritic spines. This elongation resulted mainly from the growth of existing spines and was also seen even in the presence of antagonists of ionotropic receptors, indicating that activation of these receptors by mGluR-induced glutamate release was not required. Prolonged antagonism of group 1 mGluRs with (S)-alpha-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine (MCPG) did not result in shorter average spine length. Elongation of dendritic spines induced by DHPG was blocked by calcium chelation and by preincubation with the protein synthesis inhibitor puromycin. The results suggest that in vivo activation of group 1 mGluRs by synaptically released glutamate affects spine shape in a protein synthesis-dependent manner.