The gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-containing neurons of the thalamic reticular nucleus (nRt) are a major source of inhibitory innervation in dorsal thalamic nuclei. Individual nRt neurons were intracellularly recorded and labelled in an in vitro rat thalamic slice preparation to investigate their projection into ventrobasal thalamic nuclei (VB). Camera lucida reconstructions of 37 neurons indicated that nRt innervation ranges from a compact, focal projection to a widespread, diffuse projection encompassing large areas of VB. The main axons of 65% of the cells gave rise to intra-nRt collaterals prior to leaving the nucleus and, once within VB, ramified into one of three branching patterns: cluster, intermediate, and diffuse. The cluster arborization encompassed a focal region averaging approximately 25,000 mu m2 and contained a high density of axonal swellings, indicative of a topographic projection. The intermediate structure extended across an area approximately fourfold greater and also contained numerous axonal swellings. The diffuse arborization of nRt neurons covered a large region of VB and contained a relatively low density of axonal swellings. Analysis of somatic size and shape revealed that diffuse arborizations arose from significantly smaller, fusiform-shaped somata. Cytochrome oxidase reactivity or parvalbumin immunoreactivity was used to delineate a discontinuous staining pattern representing thalamic barreloids. The size of a cluster arborization closely approximated that of an individual barreloid. The heterogeneous arborizations from nRt neurons may reflect a dynamic range of inhibitory influences of nRt on dorsal thalamic activity.