Increasing evidence from mouse models of Alzheimer's disease shows that overexpression of a mutant form of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) and its product, beta-amyloid peptide, initiate pathological changes before amyloid deposition. To evaluate the cytological basis for one of these early changes, namely reduced volume of the dentate gyrus (DG), we have used high-throughput diOlistic cell loading and 3D neuronal reconstruction to investigate potential dendritic pathology of granule cells (GCs) in 90-day-old PDAPP mice. Labeled GCs from fixed hippocampal slices were selected randomly and imaged digitally by using confocal laser-scanning microscopy. The dendritic complexity of GCs was quantified according to subordinate morphological parameters, including soma position within the granule cell layer (superficial versus deep) and topographic location within the DG (dorsal versus ventral blade) along the anterior-posterior hippocampal axis. Initial analysis, which included all sampled GC types, revealed a 12% reduction of total dendritic length in PDAPP mice compared with littermate controls. Further analysis, performed with refined subgroups, found that superficially located GCs in the dorsal blade were profoundly altered, exhibiting a 23% loss in total dendritic length, whereas neurons in the ventral blade were unaffected. Superficial GCs were particularly vulnerable (a 32% reduction) in the posterior region of the DG. Furthermore, the dendritic reductions of this select group were uniformly localized within middle-to-outer portions of the dentate molecular layer. We conclude that substantial dendritic pathology is evident in 90-day-old PDAPP mice for a spatially defined subset of GCs well before amyloid accumulation occurs.