Postnatal development of rat visual cortical functions was studied by recording extracellularly from the primary visual cortex of 22 animals ranging in age from postnatal day 17 (P17) to P45. We found that in the youngest animals (P17-P19) all visual cortical functions tested were immature. Selectivity for orientation and movement direction of visual stimuli was almost absent, most cells received binocular input and their mean receptive field size was 5-6 times the adult size. Visual acuity was half its adult value. These functional properties developed gradually during the following weeks and by P45 they were all adult-like. This functional development is affected by manipulations of the visual input such as dark rearing (DR) and monocular deprivation (MD). DR prevented the normal postnatal maturation of visual cortical functions: in P60 rats, dark reared from birth, their visual cortical functions resembled those of P19-P21 rats. MD from P15 to P45 resulted in a dramatic shift of the ocular dominance distribution (ODD) in favour of the open eye and in a loss of visual acuity for the deprived eye. To determine the sensitive period of rat visual cortex to MD (critical period) we evaluated the shift in ODD of visual cortical neurones in rats that were subjected to the progressive delay of the onset of fixed MD period (10 days). Our results show that the critical period begins around the end of the third postnatal week, peaks between the fourth and fifth week and starts to decline from the end of the fifth week.