Unitary EPSPs were evoked in CA1 pyramidal neurons by activation of single CA3 pyramidal neurons. Seventy-one EPSPs were recorded. The peak amplitudes of these EPSPs ranged from 30 to 665 microV with a mean of 131 microV. Rise times and half-widths were measured, the means +/- SD being 3.9 +/- 1.8 and 19.5 +/- 8.0 msec, respectively. The time courses of these EPSPs were consistent with a brief synaptic current at a localized electrotonic region of the dendritic tree followed by passive spread of current to the soma. EPSPs varied in amplitude from trial to trial. Sufficient records were collected for 12 EPSPs to demonstrate that this variation was greater than could be accounted for by baseline noise. The amplitude variations of one EPSP were reliably resolved from the background noise, and this EPSP fluctuated between 4 discrete amplitudes (including failures) separated by a quantal increment of 278 microV.