- A study was undertaken to investigate the response of the rodent somatosensory barrel cortex to paired-whisker stimuli. Cortical responses to controlled whisker deflections were recorded by (i) conventional multi-unit extracellular recording within the cytochrome oxidase rich barrels centers, and (ii) intrinsic signal optical imaging, a technique that measures an optical correlate of neuronal activity thought to be related to the deoxygenation of hemoglobin in activated regions. Stimuli were applied to two whiskers in sequence, at temporal separations ranging from 0 to 60 ms. Over intervals of 10-40 ms, the primary effect of paired-whisker stimulation was suppressive. We suggest that paired-whisker inhibition results from the activation of layer IV fast-spike units within the principle whisker's barrel, by excitatory input arriving from a surround-whisker. Paired-whisker stimulation produces inhibition in intrinsic images, because it results in a net reduction in layer II/III and/or layer IV metabolism. Intra-cortical inhibition may serve to convert the sequence of inputs from the whisker array into a barrel cortex magnitude code that can be read by higher cortical areas.