Acetylcholine (ACh) and noradrenaline (NA) have been shown to facilitate experience-dependent modifications of synaptic connectivity during postnatal development of the kitten visual cortex. To further investigate the mechanisms of this facilitation we studied the effects of these neuromodulators in an in vitro model of use-dependent synaptic plasticity. We have chosen long-term potentiation (LTP) in rat visual cortex slices because it shares several features with the in vivo model. In both cases induction of synaptic modifications requires that postsynaptic activation reaches a critical threshold and in both cases changes are induced more easily in young animals and when N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-gated conductances are activated. Intracellular recordings were obtained from regular spiking cells in supragranular layers of rat visual cortex and LTP was induced by tetanic stimulation of the underlying white matter. Both cholinergic and noradrenergic agonists raised the probability that tetanic stimuli induced LTP and as in vivo they acted synergistically. These effects were mediated by agonists of muscarinic and beta-receptors, respectively. The agonists of both receptor systems enhanced the depolarizing response to the tetanus and increased NMDA receptor-gated conductances during this response. We suggest that this mode of action also accounts for the facilitatory effects which ACh and NA have on use-dependent synaptic plasticity in the developing visual cortex.