We have investigated the possible role of synapsin I, a nerve terminal-specific protein, in the maturation of neuromuscular synapses in Xenopus cell cultures. Purified synapsin I was loaded into embryonic spinal neurons by injection of the protein into one of the early blastomeres of a Xenopus embryo. At synapses made by synapsin I-loaded neurons, spontaneous synaptic currents occurred with higher frequency and amplitude, and the amplitude exhibited an earlier appearance of a bell-shaped distribution. These characteristics are indicative of more mature quantal secretion. Impulse-evoked synaptic currents also showed a significant increase in amplitude. Using cell manipulation techniques, enhanced transmitter release from synapsin I-loaded neurons was shown to occur at the onset of synaptogenesis, suggesting a presynaptic developmental action of synapsin I prior to synaptic contact. Taken together, these results suggest that endogenous synapsin I may participate in the functional maturation of synapses.