We investigated the effect of elevated levels of cortisol on plasticity in the visual cortex of the cat. Animals were given daily injections of cortisol i.m. for 20 days starting around 35 days of age. After 10 days they were monocularly deprived, and after an additional 10 days recordings were made from the visual cortex to construct an ocular dominance histogram. The results were compared with those from normal animals of the same age, and with animals monocularly deprived for the same period but not treated with cortisol. Cortisol reduced the ocular dominance shift in a dose-dependent manner, but did not totally abolish it even at the highest doses used. Two other series of animals were recorded, one slightly later in the critical period and one slightly earlier, with care taken to give cortisol before the animals were exposed to light in the morning. In both cases, cortisol reduced the ocular dominance shift but did not abolish it. To interpret these results, we measured levels of plasma cortisol in normal cats of various ages. Average levels were fairly constant between birth and 12 months of age (0.5-1 microgram/dl), and increased slightly after that, but there was a large variation between animals. Thus elevated levels of cortisol can have a substantial effect on plasticity in the visual cortex of the cat, but the decline of the critical period for plasticity between 6 weeks and 3-5 months of age does not seem to be due to a rise in cortisol levels during this time.