Long-term potentiation (LTP), a form of synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, is a cellular model for the neural basis of learning and memory, but few studies have investigated the contribution of long-term depression (LTD), a counterpart of LTP. To address the possible relationship between hippocampal LTD and spatial performance, the spatial cognitive ability of a rat was assessed in a spontaneous alternation test and, thereafter, LTD in response to low-frequency burst stimulation (LFBS) was monitored in the dentate gyrus of the same rat under anaesthesia. To enhance a divergence in the ability for spatial performance, some of the animals received fimbria–fornix (FF) transection 14 days before the experiments. LTD was reliably induced by application of LFBS to the medial perforant path of intact rats, while no apparent LTD was elicited in rats with FF lesions. The behavioural parameters of spatial memory showed a significant correlation with the magnitude of LTD. We found no evidence that the cognitive ability correlated with other electrophysiological parameters, e.g. basal synaptic responses, stimulus intensity to produce half-maximal responses, paired-pulse facilitation or paired-pulse depression. These results suggest that the magnitude of LTD in the dentate gyrus serves as a reliable index of spatial cognitive ability, providing insights into the functional significance of hippocampal LTD.