One of the crucial issues in understanding neuronal transmission is to define the role(s) of the numerous proteins that are localized within presynaptic terminals and are thought to participate in the regulation of the synaptic vesicle life cycle. Synapsins are a multigene family of neuron-specific phosphoproteins and are the most abundant proteins on synaptic vesicles. Synapsins are able to interact in vitro with lipid and protein components of synaptic vesicles and with various cytoskeletal proteins, including actin. These and other studies have led to a model in which synapsins, by tethering synaptic vesicles to each other and to an actin-based cytoskeletal meshwork, maintain a reserve pool of vesicles in the vicinity of the active zone. Perturbation of synapsin function in a variety of preparations led to a selective disruption of this reserve pool and to an increase in synaptic depression, suggesting that the synapsin-dependent cluster of vesicles is required to sustain release of neurotransmitter in response to high levels of neuronal activity. In a recent study performed at the squid giant synapse, perturbation of synapsin function resulted in a selective disruption of the reserve pool of vesicles and in addition, led to an inhibition and slowing of the kinetics of neurotransmitter release, indicating a second role for synapsins downstream from vesicle docking. These data suggest that synapsins are involved in two distinct reactions which are crucial for exocytosis in presynaptic nerve terminals. This review describes our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which synapsins modulate synaptic transmission, while the increasingly well-documented role of the synapsins in synapse formation and stabilization lies beyond the scope of this review.