The protein kinase C activator phorbol 12,13-dibutyrate (0.5 microM, PDBu) and the protein kinase A activator forskolin (20 microM) each increased evoked monosynaptic inhibitory postsynaptic current (IPSC) amplitude, without affecting its reversal potential, and increased the frequency of miniature IPSCs (mIPSCs), without affecting their amplitude or kinetics, as assessed with whole-cell recording form CA3 pyramidal cells in hippocampal slice cultures. The effects of forskolin and PDBu on both evoked IPSC amplitude and mIPSC frequency were additive and were antagonized by inhibitors of protein kinases A and C, respectively. The kinase activator-induced increases in mIPSC frequency were quantitatively comparable to the increases in evoked IPSC amplitude. The increases in mIPSC frequency were not attenuated by the voltage-dependent calcium channel blocker Cd2+ (100 microM). We conclude that stimulation of protein kinases A and C potentiates hippocampal inhibitory synaptic transmission through independent presynaptic mechanisms of action. Kinase-induced potentiation of spontaneous release does not require modulation of axon terminal Ca2+ channels. This mechanism may also contribute substantially to the potentiation of evoked release.