Neurons in the primary visual cortex are selective for the size, orientation and direction of motion of patterns falling within a restricted region of visual space known as the receptive field. The response to stimuli presented within the receptive field can be facilitated or suppressed by other stimuli falling outside the receptive field which, when presented in isolation, fail to activate the cell. Whether this interaction is facilitative or suppressive depends on the relative orientation of pattern elements inside and outside the receptive field. Here we show that neuronal facilitation preferentially occurs when a near-threshold stimulus inside the receptive field is flanked by higher-contrast, collinear elements located in surrounding regions of visual space. Collinear flanks and orthogonally oriented flanks, however, both act to reduce the response to high-contrast stimuli presented within the receptive field. The observed pattern of facilitation and suppression may be the cellular basis for the observation in humans that the detectability of an oriented pattern is enhanced by collinear flanking elements. Modulation of neuronal responses by stimuli falling outside their receptive fields may thus represent an early neural mechanism for encoding objects and enhancing their perceptual saliency.