Fast- and slow-rising AMPA receptor-mediated EPSCs occur at central synapses. Fast-rising EPSCs are thought to be mediated by rapid local release of glutamate. However, two controversial mechanisms have been proposed to underlie slow-rising EPSCs: prolonged local release of transmitter via a fusion pore, and spillover of transmitter released rapidly from distant sites. We have investigated the mechanism underlying slow-rising EPSCs and the diffusion coefficient of glutamate in the synaptic cleft (Dglut) at cerebellar mossy fiber-granule cell synapses using a combination of diffusion modeling and patch-clamp recording. Simulations show that modulating Dglut has different effects on the peak amplitudes and time courses of EPSCs mediated by these two mechanisms. Slowing diffusion with the macromolecule dextran slowed slow-rising EPSCs and had little effect on their amplitude, indicating that glutamate spillover underlies these currents. Our results also suggest that under control conditions Dglut is approximately 3-fold lower than in free solution.