Cerebellar Purkinje cells are known to receive strong excitatory input from two major pathways originating outside the cerebellum and inhibitory input from two types of neurons in the cerebellar cortex. The functions and synaptic strengths of these pathways are only partially known. We have used the patch-clamp technique applied to Purkinje cells in thin slices of rat cerebellum to measure directly the postsynaptic currents arising from the two major excitatory pathways and one of the inhibitory inputs. Inhibitory synaptic currents occur spontaneously with high frequency and are variable in amplitude, ranging, in our recording conditions with high internal Cl-, from less than 100 pA to more than 1 nA. These currents are blocked by the gamma-aminobutyrate type A antagonist bicuculline. One of the excitatory inputs is all or none. For threshold stimulation, the synaptic current is either full amplitude, when the presynaptic fiber is successfully stimulated, or completely absent. This synaptic current is often larger than 1 nA and is virtually eliminated by 2 microM 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione, a blocking agent thought to be specific for glutamate receptors that are not of the N-methyl-D-aspartate type. Its all-or-none character identifies it as arising from a climbing-fiber synapse. The other excitatory input produces a synaptic current that is smoothly graded as a function of stimulus intensity. This response we believe arises from the stimulation of mossy fibers or granule cells. The synaptic current associated with this input is also largely eliminated by 2 microM 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione.