The N-ethylmaleimide sensitive fusion protein (NSF) was originally identified as a cytosolic factor required for constitutive vesicular transport and later implicated in synaptic vesicle trafficking as well. Our previous work at neuromuscular synapses in the temperature-sensitive NSF mutant, comatose (comt), has shown that the comt gene product, dNSF1, functions after synaptic vesicle docking in the priming of vesicles for fast calcium-triggered fusion. Here we investigate whether dNSF1 performs a similar function at central synapses associated with the well-characterized giant fiber neural pathway. These include a synapse within the giant fiber pathway, made by the peripherally synapsing interneuron (PSI), as well as synapses providing input to the giant fiber pathway. The latency (delay) between stimulation and a resulting muscle action potential was used to assess the function of each class of synapses. Repetitive stimulation of the giant fiber pathway in comt produced wild-type responses at both 20 and 36 degrees C, exhibiting a characteristic and constant latency between stimulation and the muscle response. In contrast, stimulation of presynaptic inputs to the giant fiber (referred to as the "long latency pathway") revealed a striking difference between wild type and comt at 36 degrees C. Repetitive stimulation of the long latency pathway led to a progressive, activity-dependent increase in the response latency in comt, but not in wild type. Thus the giant fiber pathway, including the PSI synapse, appears to function normally in comt, whereas the presynaptic inputs to the giant fiber pathway are disrupted. Several aspects of the progressive latency increase observed in the long latency pathway can be understood in the context of the activity-dependent reduction in neurotransmitter release we observed previously at neuromuscular synapses. These results suggest that repetitive stimulation causes a progressive reduction in neurotransmitter release by presynaptic inputs to the giant fiber neuron, resulting in an increased latency preceding a giant fiber action potential. Thus synapses presynaptic to the giant fiber appear to utilize dNSF1 in a manner similar to the neuromuscular synapse, whereas the PSI chemical synapse may differ with respect to the expression or activity of dNSF1.