We have used the auditory thalamocortical slice to characterize thalamocortical transmission in primary auditory cortex (ACx) of the juvenile mouse. "Minimal" stimulation was used to activate medial geniculate neurons during whole cell recordings from regular-spiking (RS cells; mostly pyramidal) and fast-spiking (FS, putative inhibitory) neurons in ACx layers 3 and 4. Excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) were considered monosynaptic (thalamocortical) if they met three criteria: low onset latency variability (jitter), little change in latency with increased stimulus intensity, and little change in latency during a high-frequency tetanus. Thalamocortical EPSPs were reliable (probability of postsynaptic responses to stimulation was approximately 1.0) as well as temporally precise (low jitter). Both RS and FS neurons received thalamocortical input, but EPSPs in FS cells had faster rise times, shorter latencies to peak amplitude, and shorter durations than EPSPs in RS cells. Thalamocortical EPSPs depressed during repetitive stimulation at rates (2-300 Hz) consistent with thalamic spike rates in vivo, but at stimulation rates > or = 40 Hz, EPSPs also summed to activate N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and trigger long-lasting polysynaptic activity. We conclude that thalamic inputs to excitatory and inhibitory neurons in ACx activate reliable and temporally precise monosynaptic EPSPs that in vivo may contribute to the precise timing of acoustic-evoked responses.