Intracellular recordings were made from CA1 pyramidal cells in rat hippocampal slices. Single action potentials were elicited by injection of brief current pulses. Bath application of phorbol esters (4 beta-phorbol-12,13-diacetate, 0.3-5 microM; or 4 beta-phorbol-12,13-dibutyrate, 5-10 microM) broadened the action potential in each of the cells tested (n = 9). The broadening reflected slowing of the repolarization, whereas the upstroke of the spike was unchanged. This effect may enhance transmitter release from synaptic terminals, and contribute to enhancement of synaptic transmission through activation of protein kinase C, a mechanism which has been associated with long term potentiation.