Apical dendrites of layer 5 pyramidal cells in a slice preparation of rat sensorimotor cortex were depolarized focally by long-lasting glutamate iontophoresis while recording intracellularly from their soma. In most cells the firing pattern evoked by the smallest dendritic depolarization that evoked spikes consisted of repetitive bursts of action potentials. During larger dendritic depolarizations initial burst firing was followed by regular spiking. As dendritic depolarization was increased further the duration (but not the firing rate) of the regular spiking increased, and the duration of burst firing decreased. Depolarization of the soma in most of the same cells evoked only regular spiking. When the dendrite was depolarized to a critical level below spike threshold, intrasomatic current pulses or excitatory postsynaptic potentials also triggered bursts instead of single spikes. The bursts were driven by a delayed depolarization (DD) that was triggered in an all-or-none manner along with the first Na+ spike of the burst. Somatic voltage-clamp experiments indicated that the action current underlying the DD was generated in the dendrite and was Ca2+ dependent. Thus the burst firing was caused by a Na+ spike-linked dendritic Ca2+ spike, a mechanism that was available only when the dendrite was adequately depolarized. Larger dendritic depolarization that evoked late, constant-frequency regular spiking also evoked a long-lasting, Ca2+-dependent action potential (a "plateau"). The duration of the plateau but not its amplitude was increased by stronger dendritic depolarization. Burst-generating dendritic Ca2+ spikes could not be elicited during this plateau. Thus plateau initiation was responsible for the termination of burst firing and the generation of the constant-frequency regular spiking. We conclude that somatic and dendritic depolarization can elicit quite different firing patterns in the same pyramidal neuron. The burst and regular spiking observed during dendritic depolarization are caused by two types of Ca2+-dependent dendritic action potentials. We discuss some functional implications of these observations.