Paired-pulse depression (PPD) of synaptic transmission is important for neuronal information processing. Historically, depletion of the readily releasable pool of synaptic vesicles has been proposed as the major component of PPD. Recent results suggest, however, that other mechanisms may be involved in PPD, including inactivation of presynaptic voltage-dependent sodium channels (NaChs), which may influence coupling of action potentials to transmitter release. In hippocampal cultures, we have examined the potential role and relative contribution of presynaptic NaCh inactivation in excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) PPD. Based on current- and voltage-clamp recordings from somas, our data suggest that NaCh inactivation could potentially participate in PPD. Paired stimulation of somatic action potentials (20- to 100-ms interval) results in subtle changes in action potential shape that are mimicked by low concentrations of tetrodotoxin (TTX) and that appear to be generated by a combination of fast and slow recovery from NaCh inactivation. Dilute concentrations of TTX dramatically depress glutamate release. However, we find evidence for only minimal contribution of NaCh inactivation to EPSC PPD under basal conditions. Hyperpolarization of presynaptic elements to speed recovery from inactivation or increasing the driving force on Na(+) ions through active NaChs had minimal effects on PPD while more robustly reversing the effects of pharmacological NaCh blockade. On the other hand, slight depolarization of the presynaptic membrane potential, by elevating extracellular [K(+)](o), significantly increased PPD and frequency-dependent depression of EPSCs during short trains of action potentials. The results suggest that NaCh inactivation is poised to modulate EPSC amplitude with small tonic depolarizations that likely occur with physiological or pathophysiological activity.