We have examined relative levels of metabolic and electrical activity across layer IV in the primary somatic sensory cortex (S1) of the rat in relation to regions of differential postnatal cortical growth. Each of several indices used--mitochondrial enzyme histochemistry, microvessel density, Na+/K+ pump activity, action potential frequency, and deoxyglucose uptake--indicate regional variations of metabolic and electrical activity in this part of the brain in both juvenile (1-week- old) and adult (10–12-week-old) animals. At both ages, areas of the somatic sensory map related to special sensors such as whiskers and digital pads showed evidence of the most intense activity. Thus, mitochondrial enzyme staining, blood vessel density, and Na+/K+ ATPase activity were all greatest in the barrels and barrel-like structures within S1, and least in the adjacent interbarrel cortex and the cortex surrounding S1. Multiunit recordings in and around the posteromedial barrel subfield of anesthetized animals also showed that the average ratio of evoked to spontaneous activity was greater in barrels than in the surrounding, metabolically less active cortex. Furthermore, autoradiograms of labeled deoxyglucose accumulation in awake behaving animals indicated systematic differences in neural activity across S1 barrels and barrel-like structures showed more deoxyglucose accumulation than interbarrel, nonbarrel, or peri-S1 cortex. These regional differences in neural activity correspond to regional differences in neocortical growth (Riddle et al., 1992). The correlation of greater electrical activity, increased metabolism, and enhanced cortical growth during postnatal maturation suggests that neural activity foments the elaboration of circuitry in the developing brain.