1. The effect of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF) on excitatory synaptic transmission in the developing visual cortex was studied by whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from rat brain slices. 2. Both neurotrophins induced a rapid increase in the amplitude of impulse-evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). BDNF also increased the frequency of spontaneous EPSCs. 3. Analysis of the currents revealed that alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-mediated components contributing to the EPSC peak amplitude were equally potentiated by the neurotrophins. 4. When synaptic transmission was studied by minimal stimulation of intracortical afferents, neurotrophins induced a decrease in the occurrence of release failures. 5. A number of neurones were insensitive to the effects of the neurotrophins, possibly related to the considerable heterogeneity of neuronal types and to the uneven distribution of neurotrophin receptors in the visual cortex. 6. The probability of neurotransmitter release represents a rapidly modifiable synaptic feature by which neurotrophins can potentiate the efficacy of excitatory synaptic transmission in the visual cortex.