Mechanisms underlying cognitive dysfunction in young diabetic children are poorly understood, and may include synaptic dysfunction from insulin-induced hypoglycemia. We developed a model of repetitive insulin-induced hypoglycemia in young rats and examined hippocampal long-term potentiation, an electrophysiologic assay of synaptic plasticity, 3-5 d after the last hypoglycemic event. Three hypoglycemic events between postnatal d 21-25 produced modest cortical (17 +/- 2.9 dead neurons per section in parasagittal cortex), but not hippocampal, neuron death quantified by Fluoro-Jade B staining. There was no change in neurogenesis in the hippocampal dentate granule cell region by quantification of bromodeoxyuridine incorporation. Although normal baseline hippocampal synaptic responses were elicited from hippocampal slices from hypoglycemic animals, long-term synaptic potentiation could not be induced in hippocampal slices from rats subjected to hypoglycemia. These results suggest that repetitive hypoglycemia in the developing brain can cause selective impairment of synaptic plasticity in the absence of cell death, and without complete disruption of basal synaptic transmission. We speculate that impaired synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus caused by repetitive hypoglycemia could underlie memory and cognitive deficits observed in young diabetic children, and that cortical neuron death caused by repetitive hypoglycemia in the developing brain may contribute to other neurologic, cognitive, and psychological problems sometimes encountered in diabetic children.