The central nervous system has extraordinary plasticity in early life. This is thought to involve N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors which, along with the non-NMDA receptors, mediate fast excitatory synaptic transmission. Although NMDA receptors may be transiently enhanced early in life, it has not been possible to demonstrate directly a functional change in the NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic response because of the voltage-dependence of the NMDA conductance and the overlapping inhibitory synaptic conductances. Here I report that the duration of evoked NMDA-receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (e.p.s.cs) in the superior colliculus is several times longer at early developmental stages compared to that measured in older animals. In contrast, the amplitude of NMDA-receptor-mediated miniature e.p.s.cs does not change during development. The kinetic response of excised membrane patches to a brief activation of NMDA receptors is similar to that of the NMDA e.p.s.c, which suggests that the time course of the NMDA e.p.s.c. in the superior colliculus reflects slow NMDA channel properties as in the hippocampus. Therefore, these data indicate that the molecular properties of NMDA receptors are developmentally regulated and thus may be controlling the ability of synapses to change in early life.