Although it is widely agreed that cyclic AMP is necessary for the full expression of long-term potentiation of synaptic strength, it is unclear whether cyclic AMP or cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) play roles in the induction of long-term depression (LTD). We show here that two PKA inhibitors, H-89 (10 microM) and KT5720 (1 microM), are unable to block induction of LTD at Schaffer collateral-CA1 synapses in hippocampal slices in vitro. Rather, H-89 enhanced the magnitude of LTD induced by submaximal low-frequency stimulation. Raising [cGMP] with zaprinast (20 microM), a selective type V phosphodiesterase inhibitor, reversibly depressed synaptic potentials. However, coapplication of H-89 plus zaprinast converted this to a robust LTD that depended critically on activation of cyclic GMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG). Chemically induced LTD is activity-independent because it could be induced without stimulation and in tetrodotoxin (0.5 microM). Additionally, chemical LTD did not require activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate or GABA receptors and could be reversed by LTP. Stimulus-induced LTD occluded chemical LTD, suggesting a common expression mechanism. In contrast to bath application, postsynaptic infusion of H-89 into CA1 pyramidal neurons did not enhance LTD, suggesting a presynaptic site of action. Further evidence for a presynaptic locus was supplied by experiments where H-89 applied postsynaptically along with bath application of zaprinast was unable to produce chemical LTD. Thus simultaneous presynaptic generation of cyclic GMP and inhibition of PKA is sufficient to induce LTD of synaptic transmission at Schaffer collateral-CA1 synapses.