Considerable evidence supports a Ca(2+) dysregulation hypothesis of brain aging and Alzheimer's disease. However, it is still not known whether (1) intracellular [Ca(2+)](i) is altered in aged brain neurons during synaptically activated neuronal activity; (2) altered [Ca(2+)](i) is directly correlated with impaired neuronal plasticity; or (3) the previously observed age-related increase in L-type voltage-sensitive Ca(2+) channel (L-VSCC) density in hippocampal neurons is sufficient to impair synaptic plasticity. Here, we used confocal microscopy to image [Ca(2+)](i) in single CA1 neurons in hippocampal slices of young-adult and aged rats during repetitive synaptic activation. Simultaneously, we recorded intracellular EPSP frequency facilitation (FF), a form of short-term synaptic plasticity that is impaired with aging and inversely correlated with cognitive function. Resting [Ca(2+)](i) did not differ clearly with age. Greater elevation of somatic [Ca(2+)](i) and greater depression of FF developed in aged neurons during 20 sec trains of 7 Hz synaptic activation, but only if the activation triggered repetitive action potentials for several seconds. Elevated [Ca(2+)](i) and FF also were negatively correlated in individual aged neurons. In addition, the selective L-VSCC agonist Bay K8644 increased the afterhyperpolarization and mimicked the depressive effects of aging on FF in young-adult neurons. Thus, during physiologically relevant firing patterns in aging neurons, postsynaptic Ca(2+) elevation is closely associated with altered neuronal plasticity. Moreover, selectively increasing postsynaptic L-VSCC activity, as occurs in aging, negatively regulated a form of short-term plasticity that enhances synaptic throughput. Together, the results elucidate novel processes that may contribute to impaired cognitive function in aging.