The action potential discharge response of single neurons to both visual stimulation and injections of current were obtained during intracellular recordings in cat visual cortex in order to estimate the net excitatory current arriving at the soma during visual stimulation. Of 45 neurons recorded intracellularly, 19 pyramidal neurons and one basket cell were labelled with horseradish peroxidase. The discharge of all neurons adapted to constant current. For 40 neurons, a single exponential provided a good fit to the adapting discharge (r2 = 0.73 +/- 0.03) for all current intensities. Superficial layer neurons were significantly faster adapting [P < 0.001, mean (+/- SEM) time constant of adaptation = 11.5 +/- 1.3 ms; n = 20] than deep layer neurons (mean time constant of adaptation = 51.4 +/- 6.4 ms; n = 10). The percentage adaptation of the spike frequency, %(peak - adapted rate)/peak, was determined from the fitted exponential. Superficial layer neurons adapted significantly more strongly (P < 0.01, mean = 67 +/- 3%) than deep layer neurons (mean = 51 +/- 5%). The mean firing frequency in response to a current step of 320 ms duration had a linear relationship to the amplitude of the injected current (slope 66 spikes/s/nA; origin zero, mean r2 = 0.94; n = 33). This relationship provided a means of estimating the net peak excitatory current generated by visual stimuli. The estimated mean peak somatic current during the passage of a bar across the receptive field was 1.1 nA and the average current for the duration of the visually evoked discharge was 0.64 nA (n = 17). The transfer response of real and model neurons was obtained by differentiating the discharge response to a step input current and was then used to predict the output of the neuron following an arbitrary input. When these transfer responses were convolved with known input signals in model neurons, the predicted output was close to the simulated response of the model neuron to the same input waveforms. The transfer response was calculated for eight real neurons. Estimates of the net excitatory current arriving at the soma during visual stimulation was obtained by deconvolution. The mean peak somatic current for these neurons was 0.62 nA.