The dendrites of many types of neurons contain voltage-dependent Na+ and Ca2+ conductances that generate action potentials (see ref. 1 for review). The function of these spikes is not well understood, but the Ca2+ entry stimulated by spikes probably affects Ca(2+)-dependent processes in dendrites. These include synaptic plasticity, cytotoxicity and exocytosis. Several lines of evidence suggest that dendritic spikes occur within subregions of the dendrites. To study the mechanism that govern the spread of spikes in the dendrites of hippocampal pyramidal cells, we imaged Ca2+ entry with Fura-2 (ref. 9) and Na+ entry with a newly developed Na(+)-sensitive dye. Our results indicate that Ca2+ entry into dendrites is triggered by Na+ spikes that actively invade the dendrites. The restricted spatial distribution of Ca2+ entry seems to depend on the spread of Na+ spikes in the dendrites, rather than on a limited distribution of Ca2+ channels. In addition, we have observed an activity-dependent process that modulates the invasion of spikes into the dendrites and progressively restricts Ca2+ entry to more proximal dendritic regions.