Abstract Over a century ago, the Spanish anatomist Ramón y Cajal described ‘mossy fibres’ in the hippocampus and the cerebellum, which contain several presynaptic boutons. Technical improvements in recent decades have allowed direct patch-clamp recordings from both hippocampal and cerebellar mossy fibre boutons (hMFBs and cMFBs, respectively), making them ideal models to study fundamental properties of synaptic transmission. hMFBs and cMFBs have similar size and shape, but each hMFB contacts one postsynaptic hippocampal CA3 pyramidal neuron, while each cMFB contacts ∼50 cerebellar granule cells. Furthermore, hMFBs and cMFBs differ in terms of their functional specialization. At hMFBs, a large number of release-ready vesicles and low release probability (<0.1) contribute to marked synaptic facilitation. At cMFBs, a small number of release-ready vesicles, high release probability (∼0.5) and rapid vesicle reloading result in moderate frequency-dependent synaptic depression. These presynaptic mechanisms, in combination with faster postsynaptic currents of cerebellar granule cells compared with hippocampal CA3 pyramidal neurons, enable much higher transmission frequencies at cMFB compared with hMFB synapses. Analysing the underling mechanisms of synaptic transmission and information processing represents a fascinating challenge and may reveal insights into the structure–function relationship of the human brain.