In order to determine to what extent the terminal arbors of phylogenetically and functionally distant axons are constructed according to common rules, we have compared visual callosal axons in cats (CCC axons) with thalamocortical axons to the whisker representation in mice (MTC axons). Both similarities and differences were found. Maximal order of branching, branching angles, topological distribution of branches and boutons are similar for all axons, indicating strong constraints in arbor formation. CCC and MTC axons are indistinguishable for total arbor length and number of branches, although these parameters can vary across individual axons of each group. MTC axons have longer and bouton-richer end-branches (the 'transmission compartment') while, in CCC axons, proximal, boutonless branches (the 'conduction compartment') predominate. Therefore, the two classes of axons appear to be specialized for performing different types of operations, in agreement with the available electrophysiological data and computer simulations. Differences in the length of branches were also observed between MTC axons of normal and 'barrelless' mice, suggesting that this parameter can be regulated by conditions at the terminal sites.