Afferent activity has an important role in the formation of connections in the developing mammalian visual system. But the extent to which the activity of target neurons shapes patterns of afferent termination and synaptic contact is not known. In the ferret's visual pathway, retinal ganglion cell axons from each eye segregate early in development into eye-specific laminae in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). The dorsal laminae (termed laminae A and A1) then segregate further into inner and outer sublaminae that retain input from on-centre and off-centre retinal axons, respectively. Thus, individual retinogeniculate axons form terminal arbors within laminae A and A1 that are restricted to one inner or outer sublamina. We report here that blockade of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors on LGN cells with specific antagonists during the period of sublamina formation prevents retinal afferents from segregating into 'On' and 'Off' sublaminae. Retinogeniculate axons have arbors that are not restricted appropriately, or are restricted in size but inappropriately positioned within the eye-specific laminae. NMDA receptor antagonists may specifically disrupt a mechanism by which LGN neurons detect correlated afferent and target activity, and have been shown to reduce retinogeniculate transmission more generally, causing LGN cells to have markedly reduced levels of activity. These results therefore indicate that the activity of postsynaptic cells can significantly influence the patterning of inputs and the structure of presynaptic afferents during development.