GABAergic interneurons innervating the perisomatic region of pyramidal cells control population discharge patterns, and thereby all cognitive operations in the cerebral cortex. A striking dichotomy in the function of this interneuron population seems to emerge from the synthesis of recent molecular, anatomical and electrophysiological data. Synaptically and electrically coupled networks of parvalbumin-containing basket cells operate as a non-plastic, precision clockwork for gamma and theta oscillations, and are indispensable for basic cortical processing. By contrast, a highly modifiable interneuron syncytium containing cholecystokinin carries information from subcortical pathways about the emotional, motivational and general physiological state of the animal, and appears to be involved in the fine-tuning of network cooperativity. Impairment of this inhibitory mechanism is likely to result in mood disorders such as anxiety.