Analysis of presynaptic determinants of synaptic strength has been difficult at cortical synapses, mainly due to the lack of direct access to presynaptic elements. Here we report patch-clamp recordings from mossy fiber boutons (MFBs) in rat hippocampal slices. The presynaptic action potential is very short during low-frequency stimulation but is prolonged up to 3-fold during high-frequency stimulation. Voltage-gated K(+) channels in MFBs inactivate rapidly but recover from inactivation very slowly, suggesting that cumulative K(+) channel inactivation mediates activity-dependent spike broadening. Prolongation of the presynaptic voltage waveform leads to an increase in the number of Ca(2+) ions entering the terminal per action potential and to a consecutive potentiation of evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents at MFB-CA3 pyramidal cell synapses. Thus, inactivation of presynaptic K(+) channels contributes to the control of efficacy of a glutamatergic synapse in the cortex.