The effects of contextual fear-learning on hippocampal synaptic excitability were investigated by means of high frequency tetanic stimulation (HFS) in rat brain slices (hippocampal CA1 region), prepared at different intervals (immediately, 24 h or 7 days) after a one-trial contextual fear conditioning paradigm session. In the latter, rats that had previously received aversive electrical footshocks in the experimental apparatus exhibited freezing (the conditioned response) when placed again in the same apparatus (retrieval test). It was shown that contextual fear-learning affects the hippocampal synaptic response. In fact, the HFS produced a decrease in the amplitude of short-term (STP) and long-term potentiation (LTP) when compared to control "naïve" subject values. This decrease in STP amplitude could be observed only in slices prepared immediately after the training session. A decrease in the amplitude of long-term but not short-term potentiation was also observed at 24 h. At 7 days, no decreases in amplitude were observed. These modifications may be thought of as specifically associated with the learning process as they were not recorded in brain preparations from "shock-only" rats (i.e. those that received the same number of aversive stimuli of equal intensity as the conditioned group but with the shocks compressed temporally so that the shocked subjects could not associate nociceptive stimulation and surroundings - no conditioned freezing during retention testing). In "exploration" preparations (brain slices from rats having only freely explored the experimental apparatus without receiving any adverse stimulation) a decrease in LTP amplitude was recorded only immediately after the training session, and STP was never modified. The synaptic response modifications do not appear to be due to presynaptic events, as they are not associated with paired-pulse facilitation curve (PPF) modifications. The present results show that contextual fear conditioning and exploration of a novel environment (i) reduce the ability to induce synaptic plasticity; (ii) differentially influence STP and LTP and that (iii) the persistence of synaptic modifications depends on an animal's prior experience.