The Royal College of Surgeons rat has a retinal pigment epithelial cell defect which causes a progressive loss of rods occurring primarily over the first few months of life. We have studied the consequences of this degenerative process on visual sensitivity across the visual field. Sensitivities were determined in the superior colliculus for unit responses recorded from 22 days up to one year of age from sites encompassing the whole visual field representation. Following visual sensitivity assessment, retinae were examined anatomically at the light and electron microscopic level. At 22 days of age, sensitivities in dystrophic rats were comparable to those of non-dystrophics at any age (40+/-1 and 41+/-1dB, respectively), despite the fact that signs of degenerative events were clear at the electron microscopic level, including presence of pyknotic photoreceptor nuclei, disorganised outer segments and accumulation of debris. However, loss in sensitivity was first detected only at 28-36 days of age (27+/-4dB). From then on, sensitivities progressively decreased to reach a plateau by 180-240 days (4+/-2dB). Starting around 90 days and onward, there was a positive gradient of sensitivities from temporal to nasal field. Drops in visual sensitivity were parallelled by several changes in visual response properties, including prolonged latency, inconsistent responsiveness, appearance of bursting spontaneous activity and activation of units by stimuli presented outside their classical receptive fields. The measure of visual sensitivities by recording visual responses at specific sites in the superior colliculus provides a reliable point-to-point assessment of retinal function comparable to visual perimetry testing in humans. This experimental approach provides the background for answering questions arising during the development of potential experimental therapies for retinal degeneration using animal models like the Royal College of Surgeons rat.