Action potentials in central neurons are initiated near the axon initial segment, propagate into the axon, and finally invade the presynaptic terminals, where they trigger transmitter release. Voltage-gated Na(+) channels are key determinants of excitability, but Na(+) channel density and properties in axons and presynaptic terminals of cortical neurons have not been examined yet. In hippocampal mossy fiber boutons, which emerge from parent axons en passant, Na(+) channels are very abundant, with an estimated number of approximately 2000 channels per bouton. Presynaptic Na(+) channels show faster inactivation kinetics than somatic channels, suggesting differences between subcellular compartments of the same cell. Computational analysis of action potential propagation in axon-multibouton structures reveals that Na(+) channels in boutons preferentially amplify the presynaptic action potential and enhance Ca(2+) inflow, whereas Na(+) channels in axons control the reliability and speed of propagation. Thus, presynaptic and axonal Na(+) channels contribute differentially to mossy fiber synaptic transmission.