1. Experiments were carried out to determine whether neuromuscular synapse elimination can occur in skeletal muscle in the complete absence of conducted neural activity, using reinnervation of partially denervated adult muscle as a paradigm. Partially denervated rat lumbrical muscles were paralysed with a nerve conduction block applied to the sciatic nerve during regeneration of injured sural nerve motor axons. Both intact (lateral plantar nerve) and regenerating motor axons converging on the same muscle fibres were therefore inactive. 2. Paralysed muscles expressed prolonged twitch contractions, low tetanus-to-twitch ratios, prolonged synaptic potentials and marked post-tetanic potentiation of frequency of miniature endplate potentials compared with control muscles and neuromuscular junctions. 3. Isometric tension and intracellular recording data suggest that regenerating axons reinnervated more muscle fibres in paralysed muscles than in controls. A greater proportion of muscle fibres was polyneuronally innervated in the paralysed muscles, but significant numbers of muscle fibres acquired a mononeuronal innervation by regenerated, inactive motor nerve terminals. 4. The data suggest that muscle paralysis enhances the regeneration of motor axons when they grow into partially denervated muscles, but activity-independent competition may also be important in the mechanism of synapse elimination at neuromuscular junctions. The data further imply that when nerve endings expressing identical patterns of activity converge on a postsynaptic cell, Hebbian rules may not be sufficient to predict the outcome of the competition, contrary to specific postulates of the neurotrophic theory of development and maintenance of neural connections.