Rapid increases in Ca2+ concentration, produced by photolysis of caged Ca2+, triggered exocytosis in squid nerve terminals. This exocytosis was transient in nature, decaying with a time constant of approximately 30 ms. The decay could not be explained by a decline in presynaptic Ca2+ concentration, depletion of synaptic vesicles, or desensitization of postsynaptic receptors. Experiments in which Ca2+ was increased either in a series of steps or continuously at different rates suggested that the decay is caused by adaptation of the exocytotic Ca2+ receptor to higher levels of Ca2+. This adjustable sensitivity to Ca2+ represents a novel property of the triggering mechanism that can be used to evaluate molecular models of exocytosis. Adaptation can limit the amount of transmitter released by a nerve terminal and permit the speed of a presynaptic Ca2+ rise to serve as a critical determinant of synaptic efficacy.