Neuronal communication involves the fusion of neurotransmitter filled synaptic vesicles with the presynaptic terminal. This exocytotic event depends upon proteins present in three separate compartments: the synaptic vesicle, the synaptic cytosol, and the presynaptic membrane. Recent data indicate that the basic components of exocytotic pathways, including those used for neurotransmitter release, are conserved from yeast to human. Genetic dissection of the secretory pathway in yeast, identification of the target proteins cleaved by the clostridial neurotoxins and biochemical characterization of the interactions of synaptic proteins from vertebrates have converged to provide the SNARE (soluble NSF attachment protein receptor) hypothesis for vesicle trafficking. This model proposes that proteins present in the vesicle (v-SNAREs) interact with membrane receptors (t-SNAREs) to provide a molecular scaffold for cytosolic proteins involved in fusion. The hypothesis that these mechanisms function at the synapse relies largely upon in vitro evidence. Recently, genetic approaches in mice, C. elegans and the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, have been used to dissect the in vivo function of numerous proteins involved in synaptic transmission. This review covers recent progress and insights provided by a genetic dissection of neurotransmitter release in Drosophila. In addition, we will provide evidence that the mechanisms for synaptic communication are highly conserved from invertebrates to vertebrates, making Drosophila an ideal model system to further unravel the intricacies of synaptic transmission.