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Dendrites are the predominant entry site for excitatory synaptic potentials in most types of central neurons. There is increasing evidence that dendrites are not just passive transmitting devices but play active roles in synaptic integration through linear and non-linear mechanisms. Frequently, excitatory synapses are formed on dendritic spines. In addition to relaying incoming electrical signals, spines can play important roles in modifying these signals through complex biochemical processes and, thereby, determine learning and memory formation. Here, we review recent advances in our understanding of the function of spines and dendrites in central mammalian neurons in vivo by focusing particularly on insights obtained from Ca(2+) imaging studies.