The nervous system has an enhanced capacity to generate seizures during a restricted phase of postnatal development. Studies in animals and particularly in in vitro brain slices from hippocampus and neocortex have been instrumental in furthering an understanding of the underlying processes. Developmental alterations in glutaminergic excitatory synaptic transmission appear to play a key role in the enhanced seizure susceptible of rodents during the second and third week of life. Prior to this period, the number of excitatory synapses is relatively low. The scarcity of connections and the inability of the existing synapses to release glutamate when activated at high frequencies likely contribute importantly to the resistance of neonates to seizures. However, at the beginning of week 2, a dramatic outgrowth of excitatory synapses occurs, and these synapses are able to faithfully follow activation at high frequencies. These changes, coupled with the prolonged nature of synaptic potentials in early life, likely contribute to the ease of seizure generation. After this time, seizure susceptibility declines, patterns of local synaptic connectivity remodel, and some synapses are pruned. Concurrently, the duration of excitatory postsynaptic potentials shortens due at least in part to a switch in the subunit composition of postsynaptic receptors. Other studies have examined the mechanisms underlying chronic epilepsy initiated in early life. Models of both cortical dysplasia and recurrent early-life seizures suggest that alterations in the normal development of excitatory synaptic transmission can contribute importantly to chronic epileptic conditions. In the recurrent early-life seizure model, abnormal use-dependent selection of subpopulations of excitatory synapses may play a role. In experimental cortical dysplasia, alterations in the molecular composition of postsynaptic receptor are observed that favor subunit combinations characteristic of infancy. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.