Each region of neocortex receives synaptic input from several thalamic nuclei, but the response properties of thalamocortical pathways may differ. We have studied the frontoparietal (motor and somatosensory) neocortex of the rat and have examined the responses induced by stimulating two convergent thalamocortical projections originating in the ventrolateral (VL) nucleus and ventroposterior lateral (VPL) nucleus. Depth recordings and current-source density (CSD) analysis revealed two primary responses with different laminar and temporal patterns when VL and VPL were stimulated. Single shocks to VL produced a characteristic small current sink in layer V, which strongly enhanced in response to a second pulse delivered within a 50-200 msec interval (i.e., the augmenting response). In contrast, a shock to VPL evoked a large current sink that originated in layer IV, spread strongly into the supragranular layers, and was almost abolished in response to a second pulse at intervals of <200 msec (i.e., the decremental response). Control experiments determined that these responses could not be attributed to the antidromic firing of corticothalamic cells, intrathalamic mechanisms, or anesthesia. Topographic response maps were obtained from a grid of 30 sites across frontoparietal cortex. One shock to VL excited a very limited cortical region, but an augmenting response evoked 50-200 msec later spread at approximately 1 m/sec to synchronize the activity across an area up to 25 times larger. In contrast, a single shock to VPL activated a relatively large area, but the area activated by a second shock delivered within 200 msec was much smaller. We conclude that overlapping thalamocortical projections, originating in different thalamic nuclei, have distinct spatiotemporal response characteristics that may serve the functional specializations of these pathways.