The rat is used widely to study various aspects of vision including developmental events and numerous pathologies, but surprisingly little is known about the functional properties of single neurons in the rat primary visual cortex (V1). These were investigated in the anesthetized (Hypnorm-Hypnovel), paralyzed animal by presenting gratings of different orientations, spatial and temporal frequencies, dimensions, and contrasts. Stimulus presentation and data collection were automated. Most neurons (190/205) showed sharply tuned (</=30 degrees bandwidth at half height) orientation selectivity with a bias for horizontal stimuli (31%). Analysis of response modulation of oriented cells showed a bimodal distribution consistent with the distinction between simple and complex cell types. Orientation specific interactions occurred between the center and the periphery of receptive fields, usually resulting in strong inhibition to center stimulation when both stimuli had the same orientation. There was no evidence for orientation columns nor for orderly change in optimal orientation with tangential tracks through V1. Responses were elicited by spatial frequencies ranging from zero (no grating) to 1.2 cycle/degree (c/ degrees ), peaking at 0.1 c/ degrees, and with a modal cutoff of 0.6 c/ degrees. Half of the neurons responded optimally to drifting gratings rather than flashing uniform field stimuli. Directional preference was seen for 59% of oriented units at all depths in the cortex. Optimal stimuli velocities varied from 10 to 250 degrees /s. Some units, mainly confined to layer 4, responded to velocities as high as 700 degrees /s. Response versus contrast curves (best fit with Naka-Rushton) varied from nearly linear to extremely steep (mean contrast semisaturation 50% and threshold 6%). There was a trend for cells from superficial layers to be more selective to different stimulus parameters than deeper layers cells. We conclude that neurons in rat V1 have complex and diverse visual properties, necessary for precise visual form perception with low spatial resolution.