To understand the computations performed by the input layers of cortical structures, it is essential to determine the relationship between sensory-evoked synaptic input and the resulting pattern of output spikes. In the cerebellum, granule cells constitute the input layer, translating mossy fibre signals into parallel fibre input to Purkinje cells. Until now, their small size and dense packing have precluded recordings from individual granule cells in vivo. Here we use whole-cell patch-clamp recordings to show the relationship between mossy fibre synaptic currents evoked by somatosensory stimulation and the resulting granule cell output patterns. Granule cells exhibited a low ongoing firing rate, due in part to dampening of excitability by a tonic inhibitory conductance mediated by GABA(A) (gamma-aminobutyric acid type A) receptors. Sensory stimulation produced bursts of mossy fibre excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) that summate to trigger bursts of spikes. Notably, these spike bursts were evoked by only a few quantal EPSCs, and yet spontaneous mossy fibre inputs triggered spikes only when inhibition was reduced. Our results reveal that the input layer of the cerebellum balances exquisite sensitivity with a high signal-to-noise ratio. Granule cell bursts are optimally suited to trigger glutamate receptor activation and plasticity at parallel fibre synapses, providing a link between input representation and memory storage in the cerebellum.