Functional characteristics of spinal neurons located in the marginal zone (lamina I) and substantia gelatinosa (lamina II) were compared to their structural features by intrcellularly staining the source of unitary potentials with horseradish peroxidase (HRP) in unanesthetized, spinal cats. The responses of postsynaptic units to graded electrical volleys in intact dorsal roots and to physiological stimulation revealed that the peripheral excitatory input to neurons of the region is dominated by slowly conducting afferent fibers; often, the input to a given element is largely from a particular class of receptors. One type commonly seen received its principal peripheral excitation from low threshold mechanoreceptors with A delta or C afferent fibers. Mechanoreceptive elements often exhibited a marked, prolonged habituation and many were not excited by afferent volleys. Other units were predominantly excited by nociceptors with myelinated or unmyelinated fibers, or by thermoreceptors with unmyelinated fibers. A few units (principally the thermoreceptive) showed substantial ongoing activity which was modulated by sensory stimulation, but most had little or none. The HRP staining revealed neuronal morphology in fine detail. No relationship between neuronal configuration and physiological response was discerned. Soma location was not always linked to afferent input, although the cell bodies of nociceptive and thermoreceptive neurons tended to be in lamina I or outer lamina II (SGo) while those of the innocuous mechanoreceptive meurons tended to be in inner lamina II (SGi). The locus of a neuron's major dendritic arborization was more closely related to the source(s) of peripheral excitation. Cells excited by nociceptors with myelinated fibers had major dendritic projections in the marginal zone. Cells excited by nociceptors or thermoreceptors with unmyelinated fibers had important dendritic branching in the SGo. Innocuous mechanoreceptive neurons had primary dendritic arborization in the SGi when the input derived from unmyelinated fibers, or in the SGi and extending into the outer nucleus proprius (lamina III) when the afferent drive came from A delta fibers. These findings support the concept that laminae I and II constitute a major termination region for thin primary afferent fibers, myelinated fibers from nociceptors ending principally in lamina I and unmyelinated fibers from nociceptors, thermoreceptors, and mechanoreceptros terminating predominantly in lamina II. Substantial integrative and distributive functions can be expected of such an afferent termination zone.