Quantal analysis can provide a quantitative description of important aspects of chemical synaptic transmission and its modification. The technique has recently been applied to excitatory synapses within the hippocampus, especially the form of synaptic plasticity known as long-term potentiation. However, these attempts have met with only limited success, in that the individual quantal amplitudes making up the synaptic response generally could not be resolved. Here we have paid attention to the possible instability of the quantal fluctuation pattern over time. We were able to resolve individual quantal component amplitudes for a high proportion of the experiments, and so demonstrate the quantal nature of excitatory transmission in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. Mean quantal amplitudes for individual excitatory postsynaptic potentials were 84-197 microV, with a mean of 131 +/- 29 microV. For periods during which the fluctuation pattern was stable, the variance associated with individual quantal amplitudes was low. We have also used quantal analysis to show that synaptic depression following prolonged stimulation at these synapses is primarily a presynaptic phenomenon.