To assess the possibility that NMDA receptors play a special role in visual cortical plasticity, the selective antagonist 2-amino-5- phosphonovaleric acid (APV) was continuously infused into the striate cortex of kittens as the visual environment was manipulated during the critical period. The cortex was studied using single-unit recording from sites between 3 and 6 mm from the infusion cannulae. One week of D,L-APV infusion coincident with monocular deprivation or “reverse suture” produced a concentration-dependent increase in the percentage of neurons that (1) lacked normal orientation selectivity and (2) were responsive to stimulation of the deprived eye. These effects outlasted the presence of the drug in the tissue. APV treatment also prevented the acquisition of selectivity and visual responsiveness that normally results from monocular visual experience after dark-rearing. Lasting effects of chronic APV infusion were not observed in adult striate cortex. The effects of APV on kitten striate cortex depended on the presence of the D stereoisomer as infusion of L-APV was without effect. Estimates of extracellular concentration using 3H-APV indicated that significant effects could be obtained with concentrations as low as 20 microM D,L-APV. Recordings from units during infusion indicated that visual responses were reduced by APV. Nonetheless, a normal percentage of visually responsive neurons was found at sites greater than or equal to 3 mm from the infusion cannula. There was no evidence that chronic APV infusion affected the sampling frequency of recorded neurons or disrupted cytoarchitecture at the sites further than 3 mm from the infusion cannula. Taken together, the data indicate that the effects of APV on kitten striate cortex are likely due specifically to the blockade of NMDA receptors. These data are considered in relation to several hypotheses concerning the role of NMDA receptors in the experience-dependent development of striate cortex.