We have recorded single-neuron activity from cytoarchitectonic area 18 of anesthetized (0.4-0.7% isoflurane in 65% N₂O-35% O₂ gaseous mixture) domestic cats. Neurons were identified as simple or complex on the basis of the ratios between the phase-variant (F1) component and the mean firing rate (F0) of spike responses to optimized (orientation, direction, spatial and temporal frequencies, size) high-contrast, luminance-modulated, sine-wave drifting gratings (simple: F1/F0 spike-response ratios > 1; complex: F1/F0 spike-response ratios < 1). The predominance (~80%) of simple cells among the neurons recorded from the principal thalamorecipient layers supports the idea that most simple cells in area 18 might constitute a putative early stage in the visual information processing. Apart from the "spike-generating" regions (the classical receptive fields, CRFs), the receptive fields of three-quarters of area 18 neurons contain silent, extraclassical suppressive regions (ECRFs). The spatial extent of summation areas of excitatory responses was negatively correlated with the strength of the ECRF-induced suppression of spike responses. Lowering the stimulus contrast resulted in an expansion of the summation areas of excitatory responses accompanied by a reduction in the strength of the ECRF-induced suppression. The spatial and temporal frequency and orientation tunings of the ECRFs were much broader than those of the CRFs. Hence, the ECRFs of area 18 neurons appear to be largely "inherited" from their dorsal thalamic inputs. In most area 18 cells, costimulation of CRFs and ECRFs resulted in significant increases in F1/F0 spike-response ratios, and thus there was a contextually modulated functional continuum between the simple and complex cells.