Cannabinoids receptors have been reported to modulate synaptic transmission in many structures of the CNS, but yet little is known about their role in the prefrontal cortex where type I cannabinoid receptor (CB-1) are expressed. In this study, we tested first the acute effects of selective agonists and antagonist of CB-1 on glutamatergic excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) in slices of rat prefrontal cortex (PFC). EPSCs were evoked in patch-clamped layer V pyramidal cells by stimulation of layer V afferents. Monosynaptic EPSCs were strongly depressed by bath application (1 microM) of the cannabinoid receptors agonists WIN55212-2 (-50.4 +/- 8.8%) and CP55940 (-42.4 +/- 10.9%). The CB-1 antagonist SR141716A reversed these effects. Unexpectedly, SR141716A alone produced a significant increase of glutamatergic synaptic transmission (+46.9 +/- 11.2%), which could be partly reversed by WIN55212-2. In the presence of strontium in the bath, the frequency but not the amplitude of asynchronous synaptic events evoked in layer V pyramidal cells by stimulating layer V afferents, was markedly decreased (-54.2 +/- 8%), indicating a presynaptic site of action of cannabinoids at these synapses. Tetanic stimulation (100 pulses at 100 Hz, 4 trains) induced in control condition, no changes (n = 7/18), long-term depression (LTD; n = 6/18), or long-term potentiation (LTP; n = 5/18) of monosynaptic EPSCs evoked by stimulation of layer V afferents. When tetanus was applied in the presence of WIN 55,212-2 or SR141716-A (1 microM) in the bath, the proportion of "nonplastic" cells were not significantly changed (n = 7/15 in both cases). For the plastic ones (n = 8 in both cases), WIN 55,212-2 strongly favored LTD (n = 7/8) at the apparent expense of LTP (n = 1/8), whereas the opposite effect was observed with SR141716-A (7/8 LTP; 1/8 LTD). These results demonstrate that cannabinoids influence glutamatergic synaptic transmission and plasticity in the PFC of rodent.