Simple and complex cells of striate cortex of anaesthetized and paralysed cats were stimulated with two superimposed one-dimensional grating stimuli of different orientations to investigate inhibitory effects of non-optimally oriented stimuli. We confirmed that a stimulus of orientation orthogonal to a cell's long axis significantly reduces the cell's discharge rate. Further experiments revealed the following. (i) The inhibition was typically stronger for simple than for complex cells. (ii) It is very broadly tuned for orientation, all orientations outside the cell's tuning band having a comparable inhibitory effect. (iii) Similarly, it is broadly tuned for spatial frequency. These last two results suggest that the inhibition arises not from a single cell but from a pool of cells. (iv) The pattern of the discharge of the inhibition in response to stimulation by phase-reversed sinusoidal gratings is consistent with the notion that the inhibition arises from complex cells. A second series of recordings of stimulation by visual noise patterns demonstrated how `cross-orientation inhibition' prevents simple cells from responding to two-dimensional visual noise while allowing them to respond to comparable one-dimensional noise patterns. We suggest that this mechanism may serve to render simple cells selectively sensitive to one-dimensional stimuli, such as the contours or borders of visual objects.