The relative contributions of glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation to neuronal presynaptic energy demands are unclear. In rat hippocampal neurons, ATP production by either glycolysis or oxidative phosphorylation alone sustained basal evoked synaptic transmission for up to 20 min. However, combined inhibition of both ATP sources abolished evoked transmission. Neither action potential propagation failure nor depressed Ca2+ influx explained loss of evoked synaptic transmission. Rather, inhibition of ATP synthesis caused massive spontaneous vesicle exocytosis, followed by arrested endocytosis, accounting for the disappearance of evoked postsynaptic currents. In contrast to its weak effects on basal transmission, inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation alone depressed recovery from vesicle depletion. Local astrocytic lactate shuttling was not required. Instead, either ambient monocarboxylates or neuronal glycolysis was sufficient to supply requisite substrate. In summary, basal transmission can be sustained by glycolysis, but strong presynaptic demands are met preferentially by oxidative phosphorylation, which can be maintained by bulk but not local monocarboxylates or by neuronal glycolysis. © 2017 the authors.