The developmental pattern and laminar distribution of beta 1 and beta 2 adrenergic receptor subtypes were studied in cat visual cortex with autoradiography using [125I]iodocyanopindolol as a ligand and also with immunocytochemistry using a monoclonal antibody directed against beta adrenergic receptors. In the primary visual cortex of adult cats, the laminar distributions of both beta 1 and beta 2 adrenergic receptors revealed by autoradiography were very similar, with concentrations in layers I, II, III and VI. In young kittens (postnatal days 1 and 10), fewer beta adrenergic receptors were present, and they were concentrated in the deep cortical layers (V-VI) and subcortical white matter. Between postnatal days 15 and 40, beta adrenergic receptors increased in density more quickly in the superficial layers than they did in the deep and middle cortical layers. By postnatal day 40, the adult pattern was achieved, with two bands of intense binding in the superficial and deep cortical layers and a lower density in layer IV. Immunocytochemical techniques applied to adult cat cortex showed that beta adrenergic receptor-like immunoreactivity was found in different populations of neurons and glial cells. The immunoreactive neural cells were most dense in layers II, III and VI. About 50% of these immunoreactive neural cells were glial cells, primarily astrocytes. Immunoreactive pyramidal cells were mostly located in layers III and V. In layer IV, many stellate cells were stained. Immunoreactive astrocytes in the subplate and white matter progressively increased in number during development until adulthood. The pattern of laminar distribution and the developmental process was not affected by interrupting noradrenergic innervation from locus coeruleus either before or after the critical period. However, when visual input was interrupted by lesions of the lateral geniculate nucleus in young kittens (postnatal day 10), the density of both beta adrenergic receptor subtypes decreased significantly in the deep cortical layers. Lateral geniculate nucleus lesions in adult cats resulted in a pronounced decrease in beta adrenergic receptor density in layer IV.