The intrahippocampal distribution of axon collaterals of individual CA3 pyramidal cells was investigated in the rat. Pyramidal cells in the CA3 region of the hippocampus were physiologically characterized and filled with biocytin in anesthetized animals. Their axonal trees were reconstructed with the aid of a drawing tube. Single CA3 pyramidal cells arborized most extensively in the CA1 region, covering approximately two-thirds of the longitudinal axis of the hippocampus. The total length of axon collaterals in the CA3 region was less than in CA1 and the axon branches tended to cluster in narrow bands (200-800 microns), usually several hundred microns anterior or posterior to the cell body. The majority of the recurrent collaterals of a given neuron remained in the same subfield (CA3a, b, or c) as the parent cell. CA3a neurons innervated predominantly the basal dendrites, whereas neurons located proximal to the hilus (CA3c) terminated predominantly on the apical dendrites of both CA1 and CA3 cells. Two cells, with horizontal dendrites and numerous thorny excrescences at the CA3c-hilus transitional zone, were also labeled and projected to both CA3 and CA1 regions. All CA3 neurons projected some collaterals to the hilar region. Proximal (CA3c) neurons had numerous collaterals in the hilus proper. One CA3c pyramidal cell in the dorsal hippocampus sent an axon collaterals to the inner third of the molecular layer. CA3c pyramidal cells in the ventral hippocampus had extensive projections to the inner third of the dentate molecular layer, as well as numerous collaterals in the hilus, CA3, and CA1 areas, and several axon collaterals penetrated the subiculum. The total projected axon length of a single neuron ranged from 150 to 300 mm. On the basis of the projected axon length and bouton density (mean interbouton distance: 4.7 microns), we estimate that a single CA3 pyramidal cell can make synapses with 30,000-60,000 neurons in the ipsilateral hippocampus. The concentrated distribution of the axon collaterals ("patches") indicates that subpopulations of neurons may receive disproportionately denser innervation, whereas innervation in the rest of the target zones is rather sparse. These observations offer new insights into the physiological organization of the CA3 pyramidal cell network.