Using a reinstatement procedure, it has been shown that intermittent footshock stress reliably reinstates extinguished drug-taking behaviour in rats. Here we studied the role of noradrenaline (NE), one of the main brain neurotransmitters involved in responses to stress, in reinstatement of heroin seeking. We first determined the effect of clonidine, an alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonist that decreases NE cell firing and release, on stress-induced reinstatement of heroin seeking. Rats were trained to self-administer heroin (0.1 mg/kg per infusion, IV, three 3-h sessions per day) for 9-10 days. Extinction sessions were given for up to 11 days during which saline was substituted for the drug. Tests for reinstatement were then conducted after exposure to intermittent footshock (5, 15 and 30 min, 0.5 mA). During testing, clonidine was injected systemically (10-40 microgram/kg, i.p.) or directly into the lateral or fourth ventricles (1-3 microram). Clonidine (1-2 microgram per site) or its charged analogue, 2-[2, 6-diethylphenylamino]-2-imidazole (ST-91, 0.5-1 microgram per site), was also injected bilaterally into the locus coeruleus (LC), the main noradrenergic cell group in the brain. Clonidine blocked stress-induced reinstatement of drug seeking when injected systemically or into the cerebral ventricles. In contrast, neither clonidine nor ST-91 consistently altered stress-induced reinstatement when injected into the locus coeruleus. We therefore studied the effect of lesions of the lateral tegmental NE neurons on stress-induced reinstatement. 6-Hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesions performed after training for heroin self-administration had no effect on extinction of heroin-taking behaviour, but significantly attenuated reinstatement induced by intermittent footshock. These data suggest that: (i) clonidine prevents stress-induced relapse to heroin seeking by its action on neurons other than those of the locus coeruleus; and (ii) activation of the lateral tegmental NE neurons contributes to stress-induced reinstatement of heroin seeking.