We have examined the role of presynaptic residual calcium in maintaining long-term changes in synaptic efficacy observed at mossy fiber synapses between hippocampal dentate granule cells and CA3 pyramidal cells. Calcium concentrations in individual mossy fiber terminals in hippocampal slice were optically measured with the calcium indicator fura-2 while stimulating the mossy fiber pathway and recording excitatory postsynaptic potentials extracellularly. Short-term synaptic enhancement was accompanied by increased presynaptic residual calcium concentration. A 2-fold enhancement of transmitter release was accompanied by a 10-30 nM increase in residual calcium. Following induction of mossy fiber LTP, transiently elevated presynaptic calcium decayed to prestimulus levels, whereas enhancement of synaptic transmission persisted. Our results demonstrate that, despite an apparent strong sensitivity of synaptic enhancement to presynaptic residual calcium levels, sustained increases in presynaptic residual calcium levels are not responsible for the maintained synaptic enhancement observed during mossy fiber LTP.