4-Chloro-m-cresol (4-CmC) is thought to be a specific activator of ryanodine receptors (RyRs). Using this compound, we examined whether the RyR-mediated Ca2+ release is involved in transmitter release at the rat calyx of Held synapse in brainstem slices. Bath application of 4-CmC caused a dramatic increase in the amplitude of excitatory postsynaptic currents (TIFCs) with the half-maximal effective concentration of 0.12 mm. By making direct patch-clamp whole-cell recordings from presynaptic terminals, we investigated the mechanism by which 4-CmC facilitates transmitter release. 4-CmC markedly prolonged the duration of action potentials, with little effect on their rise time kinetics. In voltage-clamp recordings, 4-CmC inhibited voltage-gated presynaptic K+ currents (IpK) by 53% (at +20 mV) but had no effect on voltage-gated presynaptic Ca2+ currents (IpCa). In simultaneous pre- and postsynaptic recordings, 4-CmC had no effect on the TIFC evoked by IpCa. Although immunocytochemical study of the calyceal terminals showed immunoreactivity to type 3 RyRs, ryanodine (0.02 mm) had no effect on the 4-CmC-induced TIFC potentiation. We conclude that the facilitatory effect of 4-CmC on nerve-evoked transmitter release is mediated by its inhibitory effect on IpK.