We examined embryonic expression of postsynaptic potentials in stages 26–31 (E5 to E7) chick spinal cord slices. Slow optical signals related to the postsynaptic potentials which were evoked by electrical stimulation of afferent fibers were identified in the dorsal grey matter and the ventral motoneuronal area. In cervical spinal cord (C13) preparations, the dorsal slow signal appeared from stage 28 (E6), whilst the ventral slow signal was recognized from stage 29. At stages 26 and 27 (E5), no slow signal was observed in either the dorsal or ventral regions. On the other hand, in lumbosacral spinal cord (LS5) preparations, the dorsal, as well as ventral, slow signals appeared from stage 29; at stage 28 no slow signal was detected in the dorsal or ventral regions. These results suggest that there are differences in the ontogenetic expression of synaptic functions between the dorsal and ventral regions, and between the cervical and lumbosacral spinal cords. In embryos older than stage 29, removal of Mg2+ from the bathing solution markedly enhanced the amplitude and incidence of the ventral slow signal. In addition, in C13 preparations at stage 28, removal of Mg2+ elicited small slow signals in the ventral region in which no synaptic response was evoked in normal Ringer's solution. The slow signals induced in the Mg2+-free solution were blocked by 2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid (APV), showing that they are attributable to N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. These results suggest that functional synaptic connections via polysynaptic pathways are already generated on motoneurons, but are suppressed by a Mg2+ block on the NMDA receptors at developmental stages when synaptic transmission from the primary afferents to the dorsal interneurons is initially expressed in the dorsal region.