The role of divalent transition metal ions in neural function is poorly understood. In excess, these ions are associated with neurological disorders such as Wilson's disease, Pick's disease and epileptic seizures. We suggest that zinc ions, which are contained in nerve terminals, are extruded into the extracellular space during neuronal activity. Excessive levels of zinc may be released during intense neuronal activation, and contribute to the paroxysm and toxic damage observed. Zinc ions are contained in high concentrations in mossy fibres of the hippocampal formation, and it is the postsynaptic neurones of these fibres which are most susceptible to the toxic effects of kainic acid, a potent convulsant, or to chronic exposure to organometallic compounds. Here we demonstrate for the first time that Zn2+ is released into the extracellular space during excitation of hippocampal slices.