Rapid calcium concentration changes in postsynaptic structures are crucial for synaptic plasticity. Thus far, the determinants of postsynaptic calcium dynamics have been studied predominantly based on the decay kinetics of calcium transients. Calcium rise times in spines in response to single action potentials (AP) are almost never measured due to technical limitations, but they could be crucial for synaptic plasticity. With high-speed, precisely-targeted, two-photon point imaging we measured both calcium rise and decay kinetics in spines and secondary dendrites in neocortical pyramidal neurons. We found that both rise and decay kinetics of changes in calcium-indicator fluorescence are about twice as fast in spines. During AP trains, spine calcium changes follow each AP, but not in dendrites. Apart from the higher surface-to-volume ratio (SVR), we observed that neocortical dendritic spines have a markedly smaller endogenous buffer capacity with respect to their parental dendrites. Calcium influx time course and calcium extrusion rate were both in the same range for spines and dendrites when fitted with a dynamic multi-compartment model that included calcium binding kinetics and diffusion. In a subsequent analysis we used this model to investigate which parameters are critical determinants in spine calcium dynamics. The model confirmed the experimental findings: a higher SVR is not sufficient by itself to explain the faster rise time kinetics in spines, but only when paired with a lower buffer capacity in spines. Simulations at zero calcium-dye conditions show that calmodulin is more efficiently activated in spines, which indicates that spine morphology and buffering conditions in neocortical spines favor synaptic plasticity. © 2007 Cornelisse et al.