Synaptic transmission between individual presynaptic terminals and postsynaptic dendrites is a fundamental element of communication among central nervous system neurons. Yet little is known about evoked neurotransmission at the level of single presynaptic boutons. Here we describe key functional characteristics of individual presynaptic boutons of hippocampal neurons in culture. Excitatory postsynaptic currents (e.p.s.cs) were evoked by localized application of elevated K+/Ca2+ solution to single functional boutons, visually identified by staining with the vital dye FM1-43 (refs 6, 7). Frequent repetitive stimulation produced a decline in the incidence of e.p.s.cs as the pool of releasable vesicles was exhausted; typically, recovery proceeded with a time constant of about 40 s (23 degrees C), and involved a vesicular pool capable of generating about 90 e.p.s.cs without recycling. At individual synapses, synaptic currents were broadly distributed in amplitude, but this distribution was remarkably similar at multiple synapses on a given postsynaptic neuron. The average size of synaptic currents and of responses to focal glutamate application varied fourfold across different cells, decreasing markedly with increasingly dense synaptic innervation. This raises the possibility of a very effective mechanism for coordinating synaptic strength at multiple sites throughout the dendritic tree.