We have studied the effect of dark rearing on the development of excitatory amino acid transmission in 6-week-old kittens. In normal kittens, the NMDA component of the visual response decreases between 3 and 6 weeks of age for cells located in layers IV, V, and VI (Fox et al., 1991). Dark rearing to 6 weeks of age prevents this decrease. Subsequent exposure to light allows the decrease to proceed. Ten days in the light after 6 weeks in the dark was sufficient to decrease the NMDA component of the visual response to the same levels seen in light- reared animals of the same age. Comparison of the effect of the non- NMDA antagonist 6-cyano-7-dinitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione with the NMDA antagonist aminophosphonovalerate showed that the changes were due to the relative contributions of NMDA and non-NMDA receptors to the visual response rather than the overall contribution of glutamate receptors. We also studied the receptive field properties of the cells in the various groups of kittens. Cells given 4 d in the light after 6 weeks in the dark showed increased direction selectivity but little change in response firing rate. After 10 d in the light, visual responses did show some recovery toward adult values, but neither average firing rates nor the proportion of direction-selective cells reached the levels found in normal 6-week-old animals, contrary to the suggestion that a short period in the light can reverse the effect of dark rearing completely. These results show that the decrease in the NMDA component of the visual response seen during normal development of the cortex is caused by visual experience. Changes in NMDA receptors and developmental events such as geniculocortical afferent segregation and acquisition of orientation tuning covary as a function of visual experience rather than age, strongly suggesting that NMDA receptors are involved in experience-dependent developmental processes.