We have used Golgi-impregnated tissue to demonstrate that exposure to excess glucocorticoids alters dendritic morphology in a specific population of neurons in the adult rat hippocampus. Daily injection of 10 mg of corticosterone for 21 days resulted in decreased numbers of apical dendritic branch points and decreased total apical dendritic length measured in a 100-microns-thick section in CA3 pyramidal cells compared to sham-injected and non-injected controls. In contrast, no changes were observed in CA3 pyramidal cell basal dendritic morphology. Furthermore, no changes were observed in the dendritic morphology of CA1 pyramidal cells or granule cells of the dentate gyrus. Cross-sectional cell body area of any of the 3 cell types examined in this study was unaffected by corticosterone treatment. Finally, qualitative analysis of Nissl-stained tissue from the same brains revealed increased numbers of darkly staining, apparently shrunken CA3 pyramidal cells in corticosterone treated compared to control brains. The changes in dendritic morphology we have observed may be indicative of neurons in the early stages of degeneration, as prolonged exposure to high levels of corticosterone has been shown by others to result in a loss of CA3 pyramidal cells. Additionally, these results suggest possible structural alterations which may occur under physiological conditions in which corticosterone levels are chronically elevated such as in aged animals.