Isthmotectal projections in turtles were examined by making serial section reconstructions of axonal and dendritic arborizations that were anterogradely or retrogradely filled with HRP. Two prominent tectal-recipient isthmic nuclei--the caudal magnocellular nucleus isthmi (Imc) and the rostral magnocellular nucleus isthmi (Imr)--exhibited strikingly different patterns of organization. Imc cells have flattened, bipolar dendritic fields that cover a few percent of the area of the cell plate constituting the nucleus and they project topographically to the ipsilateral tectum without local axon branches. The topography was examined explicitly at the single-cell level by using cases with two injections at widely separated tectal loci. Each Imc axon terminates as a compact swarm of several thousand boutons placed mainly in the upper central gray and superficial gray layers. One Imc terminal spans less that 1% of the tectal surface. Imr cells, by contrast, have large, sparsely branched dendritic fields overlapped by local axon collaterals while distally, their axons nontopographically innervate not only the deeper layers of the ipsilateral tectum but also ipsilateral Imc. Imr receives a nontopographic tectal input that contrasts with the topographic tectal input to Imc. Previous work on nucleus isthmi emphasized the role of the contralateral isthmotectal projection (which originates from a third isthmic nucleus in turtles) in mediating binocular interactions in the tectum. The present results on the two different but overlapping ipsilateral tecto-isthmo-tectal circuits set up by Imc and Imr are discussed in the light of physiological evidence for selective attention effects and local-global interactions in the tectum.