To identify possible neurotransmitters in the visual cortex, high pressure liquid chromatography was used to measure the release of endogenous compounds from a tissue slice preparation of the visual cortex of the rat. When synaptic release was induced, either by raising the K+ concentration in the medium or by adding veratridine, of the compounds measured, marked increases (6- to 35- fold) in release rate were observed for aspartate, glutamate, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This increased release was blocked either with a low Ca2+/high Mg2+ or a tetrodotoxin-containing medium. To label possible aspartate or glutamate pathways, D-[3H]aspartate and D-[3H]glutamate were injected in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), superior colliculus, and visual cortex. Following injections in the LGN, labeling was observed in the pyramidal cells in cortical layer 6 and in a diffuse band in layer 4, whereas no cortical cells were labeled after injections in the superior colliculus. When D-[3H]aspartate was injected in the cortex, the uptake again was concentrated in the layer 6 cells, but not labeled cell bodies were seen in the LGN, confirming the specificity of the uptake and retrograde filling process. Diffuse labeling was present in the LGN, however, presumably produced by anterograde filling process. Diffuse labeling was present in the LGN, however, presumably produced by anterograde transport from the layer 6 cells. These results suggest that layer 6 cells in the cortex, which are the source of the recurrent projection to the thalamus, may use aspartate or glutamate as their transmitter. Analysis of the function of the corticothalamic pathway may be facilitated by these findings.