1. Current-clamp recordings were made in whole-cell patch-clamp configuration from ninety-one granule cells in parasagittal cerebellar slices obtained from 21- to 31-day-old rats. Recordings were performed at 30 degrees C. 2. Resting membrane potential was -58 +/- 6 mV (n = 43). The membrane voltage response to step current injection showed inward rectification consistent with increasing input resistance during membrane depolarization. Over -35 +/- 7 mV (n = 14) repetitive firing with little or no adaptation was activated. Spike frequency increased nearly linearly with injected current. 3. Unitary EPSPs obtained by stimulating the mossy fibre bundle had an amplitude of 11.4 +/- 2.1 mV (n = 22, holding potential = -75 mV). Synchronous activation of greater than one to two mossy fibres was needed to elicit action potentials. Antidromic stimulation elicited antidromic spikes and also EPSPs, presumably through a mossy fibre 'axon reflex'. 4. EPSPs were brought about by NMDA and non-NMDA receptor activation, accounting for about 70 and 30%, respectively, of peak amplitude at the holding potential of -70 mV. The EPSP decay conformed to passive membrane discharge after blocking the NMDA receptors. 5. No appreciable correlation was found between the time-to-peak and decay time constant of the EPSPs, consistent with the compact electrotonic structure of these neurons. 6. During membrane depolarization EPSP amplitude increased transiently, due to both a voltage-dependent increase of the NMDA component and inward rectification. In addition, EPSPs slowed down due to a slowdown of the NMDA component. 7. Temporal summation during high-frequency stimulation was sustained by NMDA receptors, whose contribution to depolarization tended to prevail over that of non-NMDA receptors during the trains. A block of the NMDA receptors resulted in reduced depolarization and output spike frequency. 8. This study, as well as extending previous knowledge to the intracellular level in vivo, provides evidence for a primary role of NMDA receptors in determining mossy fibre excitation of granule cells. It is suggested that the marked voltage dependence of the EPSP time course, which was mainly caused by voltage dependence in NMDA conductance, promotes the NMDA receptor-dependent enhancement of granule cell coding observed during repetitive mossy fibre activity.