1. In the present paper we review some presynaptic aspects of the mode of action of botulinal toxins (BoTxs) at vertebrate neuromuscular junctions with emphasis on studies carried out in our laboratories using electrophysiological and morphological techniques. 2. Spontaneous quantal transmitter release recorded as miniature end-plate potentials is drastically affected by BoTxs. The low probability of release at poisoned terminals can be enhanced by carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone (CCCP), Cd2+ and La3+. However, CCCP and La3+ which drastically deplete clear synaptic vesicles from unpoisoned terminals failed to markedly affect the density of synaptic vesicles at poisoned terminals. It is concluded that poisoned terminals have a reduced sensitivity to the release-promoting action of Ca2+, Cd2+ and La3+. 3. When comparing the effect of the various BoTxs on nerve-impulse evoked transmitter release it appears that increasing phasic Ca2+ entry into the terminals enhances evoked synchronized quantal release only from terminals poisoned with serotypes A and E. In contrast, enhanced Ca2+ entry into terminals poisoned with serotypes B, D and F induced a period of high frequency asynchronous release suggesting that these BoTxs may affect a presynaptic step beyond the influx of Ca2+, that may be involved in the synchronization of transmitter quanta. These data suggest that the actions of BoTxs involve several steps of the acetylcholine release process. 4. The analysis of presynaptic currents which depend on both Ca2+ entry and intraterminal background Ca2+ levels strongly suggests that neither Ca2+ entry nor intraterminal Ca2+ levels are altered by BoTxs. Furthermore, poisoned terminals are no more efficient than unpoisoned ones in dealing with Ca2+ overloads. 5. Finally, the morphological examination of junctions paralysed by BoTx-A indicates that the toxin triggers a particularly important overgrowth of the nerve terminals and suggests that the in vivo functional recovery may occur from an extension of the original nerve terminal arborization and the concomitant remodelling of postsynaptic structures.