Axonal tracing techniques were used to examine the distribution of corticothalamic projection neurons in relation to the organization of the thalamocortical recipient zones in the whisker representation of the rat first somatic sensory cortex. Following injection of horseradish peroxidase into the physiologically defined vibrissa area in the ventrobasal complex of the thalamus, labeling in the cortex had a columnar appearance. Dense patches of anterograde labeling were located within the centers of the layer IV barrels and extended superficially through lamina III; the septa between barrels contained considerably less reaction product. Retrogradely labeled neurons were observed in lower layer V and layer VI where they were concentrated preferentially deep to the barrel centers. Regions deep to the septa displayed less over-all labeling and a lower relative number of thalamic projecting neurons. Zones having the larger numbers of retrogradely labeled cells also contained terminallike labeling of either corticothalamic or thalamocortical origin. Following an injection that included the posterior group medial to the ventrobasal complex, anterograde labeling in layer IV was located largely in the septa. In conjunction with previous findings concerning the origin and termination of other projection systems in the barrel cortex, these results suggest that a vibrissal column contains a central core zone intimately linked with the ventrobasal thalamus that is bounded by narrower regions of more diverse inputs and outputs that form an interface between adjacent cortical columns.