The clear synaptic vesicles of neurons release their contents at the presynaptic membrane and are then quickly retrieved. However, it is unclear whether a complete cycle of exocytosis and endocytosis is always involved or whether neurotransmitter can be released by a transient interaction. Recent findings in chromaffin and mast cells suggest that exocytosis is preceded by the formation of a pore that has similar conductance properties to ion channels. The content of the secretory organelle partially escapes at this early step, but the pore can close before the vesicle fuses fully. This article looks at the evidence that quantal release of neurotransmitter from clear synaptic vesicles may occur by a similar 'kiss-and-run' mechanism.