G-protein inhibition of voltage-gated calcium channels can be transiently relieved by repetitive physiological stimuli. Here, we provide evidence that such relief of inhibition contributes to short-term synaptic plasticity in microisland-cultured hippocampal neurons. With G-protein inhibition induced by the GABA(B) receptor agonist baclofen or the adenosine A1 receptor agonist 2-chloroadenosine, short-term synaptic facilitation emerged during action potential trains. The facilitation decayed with a time constant of approximately 100 msec. However, addition of the calcium channel inhibitor Cd(2+) at 2-3 microM had no such effect and did not alter baseline synaptic depression. As expected of facilitation from relief of channel inhibition, analysis of miniature EPSCs implicated presynaptic modulation, and elevating presynaptic Ca(2+) entry blunted the facilitation. Most telling was the near occlusion of synaptic facilitation after selective blockade of P/Q- but not N-type calcium channels. This was as predicted from experiments using recombinant calcium channels expressed in human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells; we found significantly stronger relief of G-protein inhibition in recombinant P/Q- versus N-type channels during action potential trains. G-protein inhibition in HEK 293 cells was induced via recombinant M2 muscarinic acetylcholine receptors activated by carbachol, an acetylcholine analog. Thus, relief of G-protein inhibition appears to produce a novel form of short-term synaptic facilitation in cultured neurons. Similar short-term synaptic plasticity may be present at a wide variety of synapses, as it could occur during autoreceptor inhibition by glutamate or GABA, heterosynaptic inhibition by GABA, tonic adenosine inhibition, and in many other instances.