When an action potential reaches a synaptic terminal, fusion of a transmitter-containing vesicle with the presynaptic membrane occurs with a probability (pr) of less than one. Despite the fundamental importance of this parameter, pr has not been directly measured in the central nervous system. Here we describe a novel approach to determine pr, monitoring the decrement of NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate)-receptor mediated synaptic currents in the presence of the use-dependent channel blocker MK-801 (ref. 2). On a single postsynaptic CA1 hippocampal slice neuron, two classes of synapses with a sixfold difference in pr are resolved. Synapses with low pr contribute to over half of transmission and are more sensitive to drugs enhancing transmitter release. Switching between these two classes of synapses provides the potential for large changes in synaptic efficacy and could underlie forms of activity-dependent plasticity.