1. Climbing fibre-mediated excitatory postsynaptic potentials (CF-EPSPs) or currents (CF-EPSCs) were recorded from Purkinje cells in rat cerebellar slices using the whole-cell recording technique. 2. Climbing fibre responses displayed prominent paired-pulse depression (PPD). In the current-clamp recording mode, PPD resulted in a decreased number of spikelets in the second complex spike of the pair, and depression of the after-depolarization and after-hyperpolarization. 3. The mechanism of PPD was examined under voltage clamp. Manipulations that reduce transmitter release significantly affected PPD. These included lowering extracellular Ca2+ concentration and bath application of baclofen or adenosine. 4. Changing the number of stimulated climbing fibres, equivalent to changing the number of release sites, had no effect on PPD. 5. Selective manipulations of postsynaptic responsiveness had no effect on PPD. These included partial blockade of CF-EPSCs by a non-NMDA receptor antagonist, 6-cyano-7-nitro-quinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX), and changing the holding potential. 6. A rapidly dissociating AMPA receptor antagonist, 2,3-cis-piperidine dicarboxylic acid, inhibited the second CF-EPSC of the pair proportionately more than the first, suggesting that presynaptic release by the second pulse is decreased. 7. PPD at interstimulus intervals of 50 ms or longer (up to 3000 ms) was not significantly affected by manipulations that change postsynaptic glutamate receptor desensitization. 8. Blockade of metabotropic glutamate, GABAB and adenosine receptors had no effect on PPD, suggesting that presynaptic autoreceptors do not contribute to PPD. 9. These results indicate that decreased transmitter release is a major cause of PPD at cerebellar climbing fibre-Purkinje cell synapses.