In many sensory systems, the latency of spike responses of individual neurons is found to be tuned for stimulus features and proposed to be used as a coding strategy. Whether the spike latency tuning is simply relayed along sensory ascending pathways or generated by local circuits remains unclear. Here, in vivo whole-cell recordings from rat auditory cortical neurons in layer 4 revealed that the onset latency of their aggregate thalamic input exhibited nearly flat tuning for sound frequency, whereas their spike latency tuning was much sharper with a broadly expanded dynamic range. This suggests that the spike latency tuning is not simply inherited from the thalamus, but can be largely reconstructed by local circuits in the cortex. Dissecting of thalamocortical circuits and neural modeling further revealed that broadly tuned intracortical inhibition prolongs the integration time for spike generation preferentially at off-optimal frequencies, while sharply tuned intracortical excitation shortens it selectively at the optimal frequency. Such push and pull mechanisms mediated likely by feedforward excitatory and inhibitory inputs respectively greatly sharpen the spike latency tuning and expand its dynamic range. The modulation of integration time by thalamocortical-like circuits may represent an efficient strategy for converting information spatially coded in synaptic strength to temporal representation.