An elementary unit of visual pattern and form perception is thought to be the orientation of edges; this element has been studied extensively by neurophysiologists using oriented line segments or bars. These same stimuli have been used in the present study to measure threshold discriminations in cats before and after cortical lesions of areas 17 and/or 18. Control experiments showed that the discriminations were made by using a single cue, orientation, and that other stimulus parameters, width, length and contrast of the bar, were optimized. The extent of the lesions was evaluated anatomically from cell and fiber stained sections through cortex and thalamus, matched to retinotopic maps of Tusa et al. (Cortical Sensory Organization, Vol. 2, Humana Press, pp. 1-31, '81) and Sanderson (Journal of Comparative Neurology 143:101-118, '71), and physiologically from visual field position of receptive fields of cells recorded in areas neighboring the lesions. Lesions involving area 17 and large parts of area 18 produced a marked deficit in orientation discrimination which included a loss in retention, and after retraining a substantial increase in thresholds for up to 3 years when tested with long bars. There was no recovery of discrimination when the animals were tested with short bars. Lesions which involved area 17 plus small parts of 18, or lesions of areas 18 and 19, produced no retention deficit and resulted in an increase in thresholds only at low contrast and narrow width. These experiments revealed an excellent correlation between lesion locus and size and behavioral deficit. They indicate that the cortical representation of bar orientation used for discrimination is distributed within and across areas 17 and 18. The spread of the distribution depends on other stimulus parameters such as bar width and length. Furthermore the experiments show that neither the most narrowly tuned cells nor the X-cell system is required for fine orientation discrimination of a long bar.