In many brain areas, including the cerebellar cortex, neocortex, hippocampus, striatum and nucleus accumbens, brief activation of an excitatory pathway can produce long-term depression (LTD) of synaptic transmission. In most preparations, induction of LTD has been shown to require a minimum level of postsynaptic depolarization and a rise in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration [Ca2+]i in the postsynaptic neurone. Thus, induction conditions resemble those described for the initiation of associative long-term potentiation (LTP). However, data from structures susceptible to both LTD and LTP suggest that a stronger depolarization and a greater increase in [Ca2+]i are required to induce LTP than to initiate LTD. The source of Ca2+ appears to be less critical for the differential induction of LTP and LTD than the amplitude of the Ca2+ surge, since the activation of voltage- and ligand-gated Ca2+ conductances as well as the release from intracellular stores have all been shown to contribute to both LTD and LTP induction. LTD is induceable even at inactive synapses if [Ca2+]i is raised to the appropriate level by antidromic or heterosynaptic activation, or by raising the extracellular Ca2+ concentration [Ca2+]o. These conditions suggest a rule (called here the ABS rule) for activity-dependent synaptic modifications that differs from the classical Hebb rule and that can account for both homosynaptic LTD and LTP as well as for heterosynaptic competition and associativity.