Simultaneous fluorescence imaging and electrophysiologic recordings were used to investigate the Ca(2+) influx initiated by action potentials (APs) into dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) pyramidal cell (PC) and cartwheel cell (CWC) dendrites. Local application of Cd(2+) blocked Ca(2+) transients in PC and CWC dendrites, demonstrating that the Ca(2+) influx was initiated by dendritic Ca(2+) channels. In PCs, TTX eliminated the dendritic Ca(2+) transients when APs were completely blocked. However, the Ca(2+) influx could be partially recovered during an incomplete block of APs or when a large depolarization was substituted for the blocked APs. In CWCs, dendritic Ca(2+) transients evoked by individual APs, or simple spikes, were blocked by TTX and could be recovered during an incomplete block of APs or by a large depolarization. In contrast, dendritic Ca(2+) transients evoked by complex spikes, a burst of APs superimposed on a slow depolarization, were not blocked by TTX, despite eliminating the APs superimposed on the slow depolarization. These results suggest two different mechanisms for the retrograde activation of dendritic Ca(2+) channels: the first requires fast Na(+) channel-mediated APs or a large somatic depolarization, whereas the second is independent of Na(+) channel activation, requiring only the slow depolarization underlying complex spikes.