Synchronized oscillatory activity at the gamma frequency (30-70 Hz) is thought to be important for information processing in many sensory systems. Here, I used patch-clamp recordings in neuron pairs in rat olfactory bulb slices to assess the mechanisms underlying such "gamma" activity in the olfactory system. Patterned electrical stimulation of afferents that mimicked a natural odor stimulus elicited rapidly synchronized spikes (lag < or = 5 ms) in mitral cells, along with oscillatory activity at the gamma (approximately 50 Hz) frequency. Analysis of coupling potentials, combined with dendritic sectioning, indicated that mitral cell synchrony was mainly driven by inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) imposed by GABAergic granule cells. Recordings in granule cell pairs indicated that granule cells were themselves synchronized by their excitatory inputs from mitral cells, providing a means to coordinate GABA release. These results demonstrate that rapid synchrony can emerge in a network through the precise back-and-forth interplay between neuronal populations.