The present study was conducted to examine the actions of norepinephrine (NE) and serotonin (5-HT) on the multiphasic, visually evoked discharges of cells recorded from the visual cortex (area 17) of anesthetized Long-Evans pigmented rats. Visual responses of 51 cells, evoked by computer controlled presentation of moving visual stimuli, were examined before, during and after low level microiontophoretic application of NE (1-55 nA) or 5-HT (1-50 nA). Drug-induced changes in stimulus-evoked and spontaneous discharges were quantitatively assessed by computer analysis of peri-event histograms. In the majority of cases tested, NE produced a net enhancement of visually evoked responses by facilitating excitatory and inhibitory components of stimulus-bound discharges. By contrast, 5-HT tended to suppress stimulus-evoked excitation and inhibition in many cases to the extent that neurons were no longer responsive to appropriate visual stimuli. In selected cases we were able to demonstrate additional effects of NE and 5-HT on response threshold, direction selectivity and discrimination of receptive field borders. For example, in some cells NE was capable of revealing evoked responses to visual stimuli which were previously ineffective in eliciting stimulus-bound discharges. In other instances, changes in cell activity evoked by stimulus movement across the visual field were accentuated during NE application in such a way that unit discharges at receptive field borders were more sharply defined in comparison to control conditions. 5-HT, on the other hand, was capable of decreasing the contrast between spontaneous and visually evoked discharge at receptive field boundaries. In summary, these results suggest that endogenously released NE and 5-HT may modulate, by complimentary actions, the magnitude of responses of visual cortical neurons to afferent synaptic inputs. Moreover, these monoaminergic projection systems may also have the capacity to modify the threshold of detection of afferent signals within a neuronal network as well as alter feature extraction properties of the circuit.