Kainate-type ionotropic glutamate receptors (KARs) distribute widely and heterogenously throughout the central nervous system (CNS). There is now increasing evidence showing that, in addition to conventional action to mediate postsynaptic excitation, KAR also exerts presynaptic action modulating the amount of transmitter release at certain synapses in the CNS. The mechanism and physiological function of presynaptic KARs have been studied most extensively at the hippocampal mossy fiber (MF)-CA3 synapse, one of the CNS regions where the highest density of KAR subunits is expressed. One unique feature of presynaptic KARs is that their activation modulates transmitter release bi-directionally; weak activation enhances glutamate release, while strong activation leads to inhibition. These findings may be explained by their possible ionotropic action leading to axonal depolarization, which in turn regulates several voltage-dependent channels involved in action potential-dependent Ca2+ entry processes. Furthermore, physiological activation of presynaptic KAR involves an activity-dependent process. Large frequency facilitation, a form of short-term plasticity characteristic of the MF-CA3 synapse, is mediated, at least partly, by presynaptic KAR. Bi-directional and activity-dependent regulation of transmitter release by kainate autoreceptors might have physiological significance in information processing in the hippocampus and other CNS regions, as well as its well-known pathological action contributing to epileptogenesis.