Spatio-temporal subthreshold receptive fields in the vibrissa representation of rat primary somatosensory cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 80: 2882-2892, 1998. Whole cell recordings of synaptic responses evoked by deflection of individual vibrissa were obtained from neurons within adult rat primary somatosensory cortex. To define the spatial and temporal properties of subthreshold receptive fields, the spread, amplitude, latency to onset, rise time to half peak amplitude, and the balance of excitation and inhibition of subthreshold input were quantified. The convergence of information onto single neurons was found to be extensive: inputs were consistently evoked by vibrissa one- and two-away from the vibrissa that evoked the largest response (the "primary vibrissa"). Latency to onset, rise time, and the incidence and strength of inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) varied as a function of position within the receptive field and the strength of evoked excitatory input. Nonprimary vibrissae evoked smaller amplitude subthreshold responses [primary vibrissa, 9.1 +/- 0.84 (SE) mV, n = 14; 1-away, 5. 1 +/- 0.5 mV, n = 38; 2-away, 3.7 +/- 0.59 mV, n = 22; 3-away, 1.3 +/- 0.70 mV, n = 8] with longer latencies (primary vibrissa, 10.8 +/- 0.80 ms; 1-away, 15.0 +/- 1.2 ms; 2-away, 15.7 +/- 2.0 ms). Rise times were significantly faster for inputs that could evoke action potential responses (suprathreshold, 4.1 +/- 1.3 ms, n = 8; subthreshold, 12.4 +/- 1.5 ms, n = 61). In a subset of cells, sensory evoked IPSPs were examined by deflecting vibrissa during injection of hyperpolarizing and depolarizing current. The strongest IPSPs were evoked by the primary vibrissa (n = 5/5), but smaller IPSPs also were evoked by nonprimary vibrissae (n = 8/13). Inhibition peaked by 10-20 ms after the onset of the fastest excitatory input to the cortex. This pattern of inhibitory activity led to a functional reversal of the center of the receptive field and to suppression of later-arriving and slower-rising nonprimary inputs. Together, these data demonstrate that subthreshold receptive fields are on average large, and the spatio-temporal dynamics of these receptive fields vary as a function of position within the receptive field and strength of excitatory input. These findings constrain models of suprathreshold receptive field generation, multivibrissa interactions, and cortical plasticity.