Retinotectal topography is established during development and relies on the sequential recruitment of glutamate receptors within postsynaptic tectal cells. NNMA receptors underpin plastic changes at early stages when retinal ganglion cell (RGC) terminal arbors are widespread and topography is coarse; AMPA/kainate receptors mediate fast secure neurotransmission characteristic of mature circuits once topography is refined. Here, we have examined the relative contributions of these receptors to visually evoked activity in normal adult goldfish, in which retinotectal topography is constantly adjusted to compensate for the continual neurogenesis and the addition of new RGC arbors. Furthermore, we examined animals at two stages of optic nerve regeneration. In the first, RGC arbors are widespread and receptive fields large resulting in coarse topography; in the second, RGC arbors are pruned to reduce receptive fields leading to refined topography. Antagonists were applied to the tectum during multiunit recording of postsynaptic responses. Normal goldfish have low levels of NMDA receptor-mediated activity and high levels of AMPA/kainate. When coarse topography has been restored, NMDA receptor-mediated activity is increased and that of AMPA/kainate decreased. Once topography has been refined, the balance of NMDA and AMPA/kainate receptor-mediated activity returns to normal. The data suggest that glutamatergic neurotransmission in normal adult goldfish is dual with NMDA receptors fine-tuning topography and AMPA receptors allowing stable synaptic function. Furthermore, the normal operation of both receptors allows a response to injury in which the balance can be transiently reversed to restore topography and vision. (c) 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.