Higher organisms perceive information about external or internal physical or chemical stimuli with specialized sensors that encode characteristics of that stimulus by a train of action potentials. Usually, the location and modality of the stimulus is represented by the location and specificity of the receptor and the intensity of the stimulus and its temporal modulation is thought to be encoded by the instantaneous firing rate. Recent studies have shown that, primarily in cortical structures, special features of a stimulus also are represented in the temporal pattern of spike activity. Typical attributes of this time structure are oscillatory patterns of activity and synchronous discharges in spatially distributed neurons that respond to inputs evoked by a coherent object. The origin and functional significance of this kind of activity is less clear. Cortical, subcortical and even very peripheral sources seem to be involved. Most of the relevant studies were devoted to the mammalian visual system and cortical findings on temporally structured activity were reviewed recently (Eckhorn, 1994, Progr. Brain Res., Vol. 102, pp. 405-426; Singer and Gray, 1995, Annu. Rev. Neurosci., Vol. 18, pp. 555-586). Therefore, this article is designed to give an overview, especially of those studies concerned with the temporal structure of visual activity in subcortical centers of the primary visual pathway, which are the retina and the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). We discuss the mechanisms that possibly contribute to the generation and modulation of the subcortical activity time structure and we try to relate to each other the subcortical and cortical patterns of sensory activity.