Experiments by Markram and Tsodyks (Nature, 382 (1996) 807-810) have suggested that Hebbian pairing in cortical pyramidal neurons potentiates or depresses the transmission of a subsequent pre-synaptic spike train at steady-state depending on whether the spike train is of low frequency or high frequency, respectively. The frequency above which pairing induced a significant decrease in steady-state synaptic efficacy was as low as about 20 Hz and this value depends on such synaptic properties as probability of release and time constant of recovery from short-term synaptic depression. These characteristics of cortical synapses have not yet been fully explained by neural models, notably the decreased steady-state synaptic efficacy at high pre-synaptic firing rates. This article suggests that this decrease in synaptic efficacy in cortical synapses was not observed at steady-state, but rather during a transition period preceding it whose duration is frequency-dependent. It is shown that the time taken to reach steady-state may be frequency-dependent, and may take considerably longer to occur at high than low frequencies. As a result, the pairing-induced decrease in synaptic efficacy at high pre-synaptic firing rates helps to localize the firing of the post-synaptic neuron to a short time interval following the onset of high-frequency pre-synaptic spike trains. This effect may "speed up the time scale" in response to high-frequency bursts of spikes, and may contribute to rapid synchronization of spike firing across cortical cells that are bound together by associatively learned connections. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.