The normal development of the somatosensory system requires intact sensory inputs from the periphery during a critical window of time early in development. Here we determined how the removal of only part of the ascending spinal inputs early in development affects the anatomical and neurophysiological development of the somatosensory system. We performed spinal overhemisections in rat pups at C3/C4 levels on the third day after birth. This procedure hemisects the spinal cord on one side and transects the dorsal funiculus on the other side. When the rats were 6 - 8 months old, the responsiveness and somatotopy of the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) contralateral to the hemisection were determined using standard multiunit mapping techniques. Sections of the flattened cortex were processed for cytochrome oxidase activity, Nissl substance, or myelin. We found that histologically apparent modules that are normally present in the regions of the forepaw and the hindpaw representations were absent, whereas the lateral barrel field representing the face was completely normal. The neurons in the forepaw regions of S1 either did not respond to the stimulation of the skin of any region of the body or responded to the stimulation of the upper arm afferents that enter the spinal cord rostral to the site of the lesion. The results show that a lack of normal sensory inputs via ascending pathways in the dorsal spinal cord during early development results in massive anatomical and neurophysiological abnormalities in the cortex. Intact crossed spinothalamic pathways are unable to support the normal development of the forepaw barrels.