The relationship between the development of the pupilloconstriction response to changes in light levels and retinal maturation was studied in normal rats and rats that had received intracranial retinal transplants at birth. A pupillary response to light was first observed between postnatal days 7 and 9 in normal rats, and was typically of small amplitude and sluggish. By the time the eyelids first open, 2 weeks after birth, the pupillary response had improved to near adult levels. The inception of the pupillary response correlates with the first appearance of conventional synaptic contacts in the inner and outer plexiform layers of the retina, while improved responses correlate with maturation of photoreceptor outer segments and formation of synaptic ribbons in the inner plexiform layer. When embryonic retinae were transplanted to intracranial locations in newborn hosts and the transplants later illuminated as the host matured, the onset of a pupillary response to transplant illumination was delayed in proportion to the developmental disparity between the transplant and the host. The pattern of anatomical development in transplanted retinae was also similar, but delayed in time, compared to normal retinae. This indicates that the limiting factors for expression of light-activated pupilloconstriction exist within the retina, rather than being intrinsic to the central nuclei or to the output pathway subserving the response.