In 1998, Sherman and Guillery proposed that there are two types of inputs to cortical neurons; drivers and modulators. These two forms of input are required to explain how, for example, sensory driven responses are controlled and modified by attention and other internally generated gating signals. One might imagine that driver signals are carried by fast ionotropic receptors, whereas modulators correspond to slower metabotropic receptors. Instead, we have proposed a novel mechanism by which both driver and modulator inputs could be carried by transmission through the same types of ionotropic receptors. In this scheme, the distinction between driver and modulator inputs is functional and changeable rather than anatomical and fixed. Driver inputs are carried by excitation and inhibition acting in a push-pull manner. This means that increases in excitation are accompanied by decreases in inhibition and vice versa. Modulators correspond to excitation and inhibition that covary so that they increase or decrease together. Theoretical and experimental work has shown that such an arrangement modulates the gain of a neuron, rather than driving it to respond. Constructing drivers and modulators in this manner allows individual excitatory synaptic inputs to play either role, and indeed to switch between roles, depending on how they are linked with inhibition.