It is widely accepted that the hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory. The mossy fiber synapse between granule cells in the dentate gyrus and pyramidal neurons in the CA3 region is a key component of the hippocampal trisynaptic circuit. Recent work, partially based on direct presynaptic patch-clamp recordings from hippocampal mossy fiber boutons, sheds light on the mechanisms of synaptic transmission and plasticity at mossy fiber synapses. A high Na(+) channel density in mossy fiber boutons leads to a large amplitude of the presynaptic action potential. Together with the fast gating of presynaptic Ca(2+) channels, this generates a large and brief presynaptic Ca(2+) influx, which can trigger transmitter release with high efficiency and temporal precision. The large number of release sites, the large size of the releasable pool of vesicles, and the huge extent of presynaptic plasticity confer unique strength to this synapse, suggesting a large impact onto the CA3 pyramidal cell network under specific behavioral conditions. The characteristic properties of the hippocampal mossy fiber synapse may be important for pattern separation and information storage in the dentate gyrus-CA3 cell network.