Dentate granule cells become synaptically interconnected in the hippocampus of persons with temporal lobe epilepsy, forming a recurrent mossy fiber pathway. This pathway may contribute to the development and propagation of seizures. The physiology of mossy fiber-granule cell synapses is difficult to characterize unambiguously, because electrical stimulation may activate other pathways and because there is a low probability of granule cell interconnection. These problems were addressed by the use of scanning laser photostimulation in slices of the caudal hippocampal formation. Glutamate was released from a caged precursor with highly focused ultraviolet light to evoke action potentials in a small population of granule cells. Excitatory synaptic currents were recorded in the presence of bicuculline. Minimal laser photostimulation evoked an apparently unitary excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) in 61% of granule cells from rats that had experienced pilocarpine-induced status epilepticus followed by recurrent mossy fiber growth. An EPSC was also evoked in 13-16% of granule cells from the control groups. EPSCs from status epilepticus and control groups had similar peak amplitudes ( approximately 30 pA), 20-80% rise times (approximately 1.2 ms), decay time constants ( approximately 10 ms), and half-widths (approximately 8 ms). The mean failure rate was high (approximately 70%) in both groups, and in both groups activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors contributed a small component to the EPSC. The strong similarity between responses from the status epilepticus and control groups suggests that they resulted from activation of a similar synaptic population. No EPSC was recorded when the laser beam was focused in the dentate hilus, suggesting that indirect activation of hilar mossy cells contributed little, if at all, to these results. Recurrent mossy fiber growth increases the density of mossy fiber-granule cell synapses in the caudal dentate gyrus by perhaps sixfold, but the new synapses appear to operate very similarly to preexisting mossy fiber-granule cell synapses.