The mitral cell primary dendrite plays an important role in transmitting distal olfactory nerve input from olfactory glomerulus to the soma-axon initial segment. To understand how dendritic active properties are involved in this transmission, we have combined dual soma and dendritic patch recordings with computational modeling to analyze action-potential initiation and propagation in the primary dendrite. In response to depolarizing current injection or distal olfactory nerve input, fast Na(+) action potentials were recorded along the entire length of the primary dendritic trunk. With weak-to-moderate olfactory nerve input, an action potential was initiated near the soma and then back-propagated into the primary dendrite. As olfactory nerve input increased, the initiation site suddenly shifted to the distal primary dendrite. Multi-compartmental modeling indicated that this abrupt shift of the spike-initiation site reflected an independent thresholding mechanism in the distal dendrite. When strong olfactory nerve excitation was paired with strong inhibition to the mitral cell basal secondary dendrites, a small fast prepotential was recorded at the soma, which indicated that an action potential was initiated in the distal primary dendrite but failed to propagate to the soma. As the inhibition became weaker, a "double-spike" was often observed at the dendritic recording site, corresponding to a single action potential at the soma. Simulation demonstrated that, in the course of forward propagation of the first dendritic spike, the action potential suddenly jumps from the middle of the dendrite to the axonal spike-initiation site, leaving the proximal part of primary dendrite unexcited by this initial dendritic spike. As Na(+) conductances in the proximal dendrite are not activated, they become available to support the back-propagation of the evoked somatic action potential to produce the second dendritic spike. In summary, the balance of spatially distributed excitatory and inhibitory inputs can dynamically switch the mitral cell firing among four different modes: axo-somatic initiation with back-propagation, dendritic initiation either with no forward propagation, forward propagation alone, or forward propagation followed by back-propagation.