The present study explored differences in dendritic/spine extent across several human cortical regions. Specifically, the basilar dendrites/spines of supragranular pyramidal cells were examined in eight Brodmann's areas (BA) arranged according to Benson's (1993, Behav Neurol 6:75-81) functional hierarchy: primary cortex (somatosensory, BA3-1-2; motor, BA4), unimodal cortex (Wernicke's area, BA22; Broca's area, BA44), heteromodal cortex (supple- mentary motor area, BA6beta; angular gyrus, BA39) and supramodal cortex (superior frontopolar zone, BA10; inferior frontopolar zone, BA11). To capture more general aspects of regional variability, primary and unimodal areas were designated as low integrative regions; heteromodal and supramodal areas were designated as high integrative regions. Tissue was obtained from the left hemisphere of 10 neurologically normal individuals (M(age) = 30 +/- 17 years; five males, five females) and stained with a modified rapid Golgi technique. Ten neurons were sampled from each cortical region (n = 800) and evaluated according to total dendritic length, mean segment length, dendritic segment count, dendritic spine number and dendritic spine density. Despite considerable inter-individual variation, there were significant differences across the eight Brodmann's areas and between the high and low integrative regions for all dendritic and spine measures. Dendritic systems in primary and unimodal regions were consistently less complex than in heteromodal and supramodal areas. The range within these rankings was substantial, with total dendritic length in BA10 being 31% greater than that in BA3-1-2, and dendritic spine number being 69% greater. These findings demonstrate that cortical regions involved in the early stages of processing (e.g. primary sensory areas) generally exhibit less complex dendritic/spine systems than those regions involved in the later stages of information processing (e.g. prefrontal cortex). This dendritic progression appears to reflect significant differences in the nature of cortical processing, with spine-dense neurons at hierarchically higher association levels integrating a broader range of synaptic input than those at lower cortical levels.