We have characterized developmental changes in the kinetics and quantal parameters of action potential (AP)-evoked neurotransmitter release during maturation of the calyx of Held synapse. Quantal size (q) and peak amplitudes of evoked EPSCs increased moderately, whereas the fraction of vesicles released by single APs decreased. During synaptic depression induced in postnatal day (P) 5-7 synapses by 10-100 Hz stimulation, q declined rapidly to 40-12% of its initial value. The decrease in q was generally smaller in more mature synapses (P12-14), but quite severe for frequencies > or = 300 Hz. The stronger decline of q in immature synapses resulted from a slower recovery from desensitization, presumably due to delayed glutamate clearance. Recovery from this desensitization followed an exponential time course with a time constant of approximately 480 ms in P5-7 synapses, and sped up > 20-fold during maturation. Deconvolution analysis of EPSCs revealed a significant acceleration of the release time course during development, which was accompanied by a 2-fold increase of the peak release rate. During long 100 Hz trains, more mature synapses were able to sustain average rates of 8-10 quanta s(-1) per active zone for phasic release. The rates of asynchronous vesicle release increased transiently > 35-fold immediately after such stimuli and decayed rapidly with an exponential time constant of approximately 50 ms to low resting levels of spontaneous release. However, even following extended periods of 100 Hz stimulation, the amount of asynchronous release was relatively minor with peak rates of less than 5% of the average rate of synchronous release measured at steady state during the tetani. Therefore, a multitude of mechanisms seems to converge on the generation of fast, temporally precise and reliable high-frequency transmission at the mature calyx of Held synapse.