The highly segregated organization of the vibrissal system of rodents offers a unique opportunity to address key issues about thalamic operations in primary sensory and second order thalamic nuclei. In this short review, evidence showing that reticular thalamic neurons and relay cells with receptive fields on the same vibrissa form topographically closed loop connections has been summarized. Within whisker-related thalamic modules, termed barreloids, reticular axons synapse onto the cell bodies and dendrites of residing neurons as well as onto the distal dendrites of neurons that are located in adjacent barreloids. This arrangement provides a substrate for a mechanism of lateral inhibition whereby the spread of dendritic trees among surrounding barreloids determines whisker-specific patterns of lateral inhibition. The relay of sensory inputs in the posterior group, a second order nucleus associated with the vibrissal system is also examined. It is shown that in lightly anesthetized rats posterior group cells are tonically inhibited by GABAergic neurons of the ventral division of zona incerta. These observations suggest that a mechanism of disinhibition controls transmission of sensory signals in the posterior group nucleus. We further propose that disinhibition operates in a top-down manner, via motor instructions sent by cortex to brainstem and spinal cord. In this way posterior group nucleus would forward to the cerebral cortex sensory information that is contingent upon its action.