Trigeminal neurons that relay vibrissal messages to the thalamus receive input from first-order afferents that are tuned to different directions of whisker motion. This raises the question of how directional tuning is maintained in central relay stations of the whisker system. In the present study we performed a detailed analysis of the angular tuning properties of cells in the principal trigeminal nucleus of the rat. We found that stimulus direction systematically influences response latency, so that the degree of directional tuning and the preferred deflection angle computed with first-spike latency yielded results nearly similar to those obtained with spike counts. Furthermore, we found that inhibition sharpens directional selectivity, and that pharmacological blockade of inhibition markedly decreases the angular tuning of cellular responses. These results indicate that the angular tuning of cells in the first relay station of the vibrissal system is determined by fast feedforward inhibition, which shapes excitatory inputs at the very beginning of synaptic integration.