Synaptic activity-dependent changes in the spatio-temporal distribution of calcium ions regulate important neuronal functions such as dendritic integration and synaptic plasticity, but the processes that terminate the free Ca2+ transients associated with these changes remain unclear. We have characterized at the electron microscopic level the intracellular compartments involved in buffering free Ca2+ transients in dendritic cytoplasm of CA3 neurons by measuring the larger changes in the concentrations of total Ca that persist for several minutes after neuronal activity. Quantitative energy-dispersive x-ray microanalysis of cryosections from hippocampal slice cultures rapidly frozen 3 min after afferent synaptic activity identified a subset of dendritic endoplasmic reticulum (ER) as a high-capacity Ca2+ buffer. Calcium sequestration by cisterns of this subset of ER was graded, reversible, and dependent on a thapsigargin-sensitive Ca2+-ATPase. Sequestration was so robust that after repetitive high- frequency stimulation the Ca content of responsive ER cisterns increased as much as 20-fold. These results demonstrate that a subpopulation of ER is the major dendritic Ca sequestration compartment in the minutes after neuronal activity.