Previous studies have suggested the importance of synaptophysin (p38), a major integral membrane protein of the synaptic vesicle, in transmitter secretion, but few have directly addressed its functional role at intact synapses. In the present study, injection of synthetic mRNA for synaptophysin into one of the early blastomeres of a Xenopus embryo resulted in elevated synaptophysin expression in 1 and 2 d embryos and in cultured spinal neurons derived from the injected blastomere, as shown by immunocytochemistry. At neuromuscular synapses made by neurons overexpressing synaptophysin [p38(+)] in 1 d cell cultures, the spontaneous synaptic currents (SSCs) showed a markedly higher frequency, as compared to control synapses. This increase in frequency was not accompanied by a change in the mean amplitude or the amplitude distribution of the SSCs, suggesting that synaptophysin is not involved in determining the size of transmitter quanta. The impulse- evoked synaptic currents (ESCs) of synapses made by p38(+) neurons showed increased amplitude as well as reduced fluctuation and delay of onset of ESCs. Under high-frequency tetanic stimulation at 5 Hz, the rate of tetanus-induced depression was faster for p38(+) neurons. Taken together, these results suggest a role for synaptophysin in the late steps of transmitter secretion, affecting the probability of vesicular exocytosis and/or the number of synaptic vesicles initially docked at the active zone.