'Fast-spike' interneurons of layer 4 mediate thalamocortical feedforward inhibition and can, with some confidence, be identified using extracellular methods. In somatosensory barrel cortex of awake rabbits, these 'suspected inhibitory interneurons' (SINs) have distinct receptive field properties: they respond to vibrissa displacement with very high sensitivity and temporal fidelity. However, they lack the directional specificity that is clearly seen in most of their ventrobasal thalamocortical afferents. Several lines of evidence show that layer-4 SINs receive a potent and highly convergent and divergent functional input from topographically aligned thalamocortical neurons. Whereas the unselective pooling of convergent thalamocortical inputs onto SINs generates sensitive and broadly tuned inhibitory receptive fields, the potent divergence of single thalamocortical neurons onto many SINs generates sharply synchronous (+/-1 ms) activity (because of coincident EPSPs). Synchronous discharge of these interneurons following thalamocortical impulses will generate a synchronous feedforward release of GABA within the barrel. Thalamocortical impulses will, therefore, generate only a brief 'window of excitability' during which spikes can occur in the post-synaptic targets of fast-spike interneurons. This fast, synchronous, highly sensitive and broadly tuned feed-forward inhibitory network is well suited to suppress spike generation in spiny neurons following all but the most optimal feedforward excitatory inputs.