Electrophysiological studies over the past decades have shown that many compounds in addition to 'classical' neurotransmitters affect electrical activity in the brain. These compounds include neuropeptides synthesized in brain as well as compounds which are released from peripheral sources and subsequently enter the brain compartment, such as corticosteroid hormones from the adrenal gland. In the present review, this principle is illustrated by describing the effects of two substances, i.e. vasopressin and corticosterone. Neuropeptides and corticosteroid hormones add at least two essential aspects to information processing in the brain. First, they both act conditional, i.e. they modulate the actions of 'classical' neurotransmitters, rather than changing basal neuronal activity by themselves. Second, the time-frame in which modulation of electrical properties takes place differs from that generally seen with 'classical' neurotransmitters. Neuropeptides modulate electrical activity over a period of minutes, while effects of corticosteroid hormones usually become apparent after at least an hour but then last for hours. In this way, neuropeptides and steroid hormones expand the repertoire of responses through which the brain reacts to environmental challenges.