The cortical 'point spread' (PS) is the area of cortex activated by a minimal visual stimulus. Here we use the PS to explore the functional role of lateral connectivity in normal cat primary visual cortex (V1) and its involvement in topographic reorganization of cortex following retinal lesions. We compared the distributions of PSs measured with optical recording, which reflects both spiking and subthreshold activity, with those measured with extracellular electrodes, which reveal spiking activity alone. The spiking PS represented only 5% of the area of activation shown in the optical PS, indicating that the remaining 95% was probably generated by subthreshold activation. The orientation dependence of the pattern of the subthreshold activation and its close match with orientation columns suggests that long-range horizontal connections radiating from the locus of spiking activity were responsible for the observed activation. The spike PS showed anisotropies and inhomogeneities that were related to the pattern of orientation columns and indicated distortions in the representation of visual space on the cortical surface. In the reorganized cortex the spike PS expanded, approximating the extent of the optical PS seen in normal cortex, and suggesting that reorganization was mediated by an unmasking of normally subthreshold activation to suprathreshold levels. The orientation map of the reorganized cortex showed a close match to that obtained before placing the lesion, despite the large shift in topography, supporting the idea that intrinsic horizontal connections were responsible for the remapping.