1. Cats were reared in the dark to 3, 5, and 11 mo. We studied the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor contribution to the visual response in the cortex, defined as the percentage reduction in visual response after application of 2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid (APV). We also studied the firing rate in response to the optimal visual stimulus and the spontaneous activity. We made comparisons of all these properties between light-reared and dark-reared animals. 2. The NMDA receptor contribution to the visual response in layers IV, V, and VI of dark-reared animals was substantially above that in light-reared animals at all ages tested. 3. The specificity of receptive field properties in dark-reared animals showed some degeneration between 6 wk and 3 mo of age. At > or = 3 mo, almost no cells were specific for orientation and direction of movement. 4. Firing rate was lower in dark-reared animals at all ages, suggesting a decrease in excitatory drive to the visual cortex. 5. Spontaneous activity was equal in dark- and light-reared animals, suggesting that the overall level of activity (including visual responses as well as spontaneous activity) in light-reared animals is higher than in dark-reared animals. This should tend to upregulate glutamate receptors in general in dark-reared animals.