The spatial and temporal patterns of neocortex activation are determined not only by the dynamic character of the input but also by the intrinsic dynamics of the cortical circuitry. To study the role of afferent input frequency on cortical activation dynamics, the electrical activity of in vitro neocortex slices was imaged during white-matter electrical stimulation. High-speed optical imaging was implemented using voltage-sensitive dyes in guinea pig visual and somatosensory cortex slices concomitantly with intracellular recordings. Single white-matter electrical stimuli activated well-defined cortical sites with a radially oriented columnar configuration. This configuration was followed, over the next few milliseconds, by a lateral spread of excitation through cortical layers 5 and 6 and layers 2 and 3. Much of the optical response was eliminated in low extracellular calcium, indicating that it was primarily synaptically mediated. Repetitive stimuli at 10 Hz reproduced the spatiotemporal pattern observed for single stimuli. In contrast, repetitive stimulation in the gamma frequency range ( approximately 40 Hz) rapidly restrained the area of excitation to a small columnar site directly above the stimulating electrode. Intracellular recordings from cells lateral to the activated column revealed increased inhibitory synaptic activity and/or decreased excitatory responses during the train at 40 Hz, but not during a 10 Hz stimulation. Localized microinjections of GABA(A) antagonist produced a reorganization of the geometrical activity pattern that was dependent on the position of the microinjection site. These findings indicate that the frequency-dependent spatial organization of neocortex activation is determined by inhibitory sculpting attributable to local network dynamics.