Cortical neurons with similar properties are grouped in columnar structures and supplied by matching vascular networks. The hemodynamic response to neuronal activation, however, is not well described on a fine spatial scale. We investigated the spatiotemporal characteristics of microvascular responses to neuronal activation in rat barrel cortex using optical intrinsic signal imaging and spectroscopy. Imaging was performed at 570 nm to provide functional maps of cerebral blood volume (CBV) changes and at 610 nm to estimate oxygenation changes. To emphasize parenchymal rather than large vessel contributions to the functional hemodynamic responses, we developed an ANOVA-based statistical analysis technique. Perfusion-based maps were compared with underlying neuroanatomy with cytochrome oxidase staining. Statistically determined CBV responses localized accurately to individually stimulated barrel columns and could resolve neighboring columns with a resolution better than 400 mum. Both CBV and early oxygenation responses extended beyond anatomical boundaries of single columns, but this vascular point spread did not preclude spatial specificity. These results indicate that microvascular flow control structures providing targeted flow increases to metabolically active neuronal columns also produce finely localized changes in CBV. This spatial specificity, along with the high contrast/noise ratio, makes the CBV response an attractive mapping signal. We also found that functional oxygenation changes can achieve submillimeter specificity not only during the transient deoxygenation ("initial dip") but also during the early part of the hyperoxygenation. We, therefore, suggest that to optimize hemodynamic spatial specificity, appropriate response timing ( using less than or equal to2-3 sec changes) is more important than etiology (oxygenation or volume).