Abstract Hippocampal unit responses were recorded throughout classical conditioning of the rabbit nictitating membrane response to a tone conditioned stimulus (CS) using a corneal air-puff unconditioned stimulus (UCS). Multiple unit analysis revealed that a rapidly developing increase in cell discharges (relative to spontaneous activity) occurs within the first block of paired trials and continues to increment with subsequent training, initially in the UCS period and then in the CS period. The pattern of hippocampal activity within paired trials closely parallels the amplitude-time course of the behavioral response and precedes it temporally. Identical recordings from animals given unpaired CS-alone and UCS-alone presentations showed no such changes. These control results and additional lines of evidence point to the critical necessity of the learning paradigm for the development of the hippocampal response seen in conditioning animals. A single unit analysis indicates that not all hippocampal neurons exhibit the described conditioned discharge pattern. Hippocampal long-term potentiation is considered as a possible mechanisms for mediating this early and rapid neuronal plasticity dependent on specific ‘contingent’ patterns of stimulation.