Extracellular single cell spike activity was recorded in the visual cortex of anaesthetized adult cats at identical sites before and 2 days after focal excitotoxic lesions induced by injections of ibotenic acid. In the surround of the lesions (up to 5 mm from the border of the lesion), the average postlesion receptive field (RF) sizes were not different from the prelesion RFs. However, RFs of neurons with increased postlesion excitability were slightly enlarged; such neurons were mainly found close to the anterior border of the lesion (< or = 1 mm). After applying a visual training procedure for 1 h to the postlesion RFs (repetitive, synchronous stimulation of a part of the RF and the neighbouring unresponsive part of the visual field), there was a small (0.4-0.8 degrees ) but significant and specific increase of RF size in about half of the tested neurons. This RF enlargement was similar to that observed with the same training procedure in the visual cortex of normal cats. Thus, small RF changes can be induced by visual stimulation within one hour in normal cells as well as in cells at the border of cortical lesions. Any differences between normal and lesioned animals appear to be related to lesion-induced changes of excitability.