Induction of long-term potentiation (LTP) by burst stimulation patterned after the limbic system theta rhythm was studied in slices of piriform cortex. Monosynaptic responses were evoked by stimulation of afferent fibers of the lateral olfactory tract (LOT) or the intrinsic associational (ASSN) feedback system. LTP was difficult to elicit at LOT synapses in the presence of 2.5 mM extracellular Mg2+, and when it was induced potentiation increased for 20-30 min after burst stimulation before stabilizing. The probability of inducing LTP was increased when the extracellular Mg2+ concentration was reduced to 50 microM. In ASSN synapses LTP developed in about 1 min after burst stimulation and then remained stable. ASSN system LTP was more readily induced in slices from caudal than rostral piriform. Induction of LTP at both LOT and ASSN synapses was blocked by D-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoate, indicating that NMDA receptor activation was required. Neither system exhibited the decremental short-term potentiation effect observed after burst stimulation of inputs to the CA1 field of hippocampus.