Dystrophic changes in dendrites of cortical neurons are present in several neuro-psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. The mechanisms that account for dendritic changes in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in schizophrenia are unclear. Cognitive deficits in schizophrenia have been linked to compromised cortical dopamine function, and the density of the PFC dopamine innervation is decreased in schizophrenia. We determined if 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the ventral tegmental area that disrupt the PFC dopamine innervation cause dystrophic changes in cortical neurons. Three weeks post-operatively we observed a marked decrease in basal dendritic length and spine density of layer V pyramidal cells in the prelimbic cortex; no change was seen in neurons of the motor cortex. We then examined rats in which the PFC dopamine innervation was lesioned and 3 weeks later were started on chronic treatment with an atypical (olanzapine) or typical (haloperidol) antipsychotic drug. Olanzapine but not haloperidol reversed lesion-induced changes in PFC pyramidal cell dendrites. These data suggest that dopamine regulates dendritic structure in PFC neurons. Moreover, the findings are consistent with a decrease in cortical dopaminergic tone contributing to the pathological changes in the cortex of schizophrenia, and suggest that the progressive cortical loss in schizophrenia may be slowed or reversed by treatment with atypical antipsychotic drugs.