Purkinje neurons in rat cerebellar slices injected with an oil drop saturated with 1,1'-dihexadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate [DiIC16(3) or DiI] to label the endoplasmic reticulum were observed by confocal microscopy. DiI spread throughout the cell body and dendrites and into the axon. DiI spreading is due to diffusion in a continuous bilayer and is not due to membrane trafficking because it also spreads in fixed neurons. DiI stained such features of the endoplasmic reticulum as densities at branch points, reticular networks in the cell body and dendrites, nuclear envelope, spines, and aggregates formed during anoxia nuclear envelope, spines, and aggregates formed during anoxia in low extracellular Ca2+. In cultured rat hippocampal neurons, where optical conditions provide more detail, DiI labeled a clearly delineated network of endoplasmic reticulum in the cell body. We conclude that there is a continuous compartment of endoplasmic reticulum extending from the cell body throughout the dendrites. This compartment may coordinate and integrate neuronal functions.