The NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) class of glutamate receptor plays a critical role in a variety of forms of synaptic plasticity in the vertebrate central nervous system. One extensively studied example of plasticity is long-term potentiation (LTP), a remarkably long-lasting enhancement of synaptic efficiency induced in the hippocampus by brief, high-frequency stimulation of excitatory synapses. LTP is a strong candidate for a cellular mechanism of learning and memory. The site of LTP induction appears to be the postsynaptic cell and induction requires both activation of NMDA receptors by synaptically released glutamate and depolarization of the postsynaptic membrane. It is proposed that this depolarization relieves a voltage-dependent Mg2+ block of the NMDA receptor channel, resulting in increased calcium influx which is the trigger for the induction of LTP. This model predicts that application of a large depolarizing dose of NMDA should be sufficient to evoke LTP. In agreement with a previous study, we have found that NMDA or glutamate application does potentiate synaptic transmission in the hippocampus. This agonist-induced potentiation is, however, decremental and short-lived, unlike LTP. It is occluded shortly after the induction of LTP and a similar short-term potentiation can be evoked by synaptically released glutamate. We thus propose that LTP has two components, a short-term, decremental component which can be mimicked by NMDA receptor activation, and a long-lasting, non-decremental component which, in addition to requiring activation of NMDA receptors, requires stimulation of presynaptic afferents.