Aldehyde fixation continues to be useful to prepare synapses for freeze-fracture, but it may increase the rate of transmitter release. The effects of different aldehyde fixatives on spontaneous quantal release (m.e.p.p.s), and on the corresponding synaptic vesicle exocytosis at frog nerve-muscle synapses were investigated with the hope of finding a way to minimize side effects of fixation. Increases in m.e.p.p.s of up to 50 S-1 occurred during fixation, despite the species of aldehyde used in the fixative, and this fixative effect decreased only slightly as aldehyde concentration was increased. Increases in m.e.p.p frequency were not blocked by tetrodotoxin, by lowering external calcium and raising external magnesium concentration, or by lowering the total osmotic strength of the fixative. The smallest increase in m.e.p.p. frequency was in 3% glutaraldehyde and corresponded to the lowest level of synaptic vesicle exocytosis seen by freeze-fracture, 0.15 per micrometers of active zone. The effects of aldehyde fixation on m.e.p.p. frequency and synaptic vesicle exocytosis could not be avoided, but this study suggests how its effect on morphological changes in synapses might be minimized.