While the synaptic properties of Golgi cell-mediated inhibition of granule cells are well studied, less is known of the afferent inputs to Golgi cells so their role in information processing remains unclear. We investigated the responses of cerebellar cortical Golgi cells and Purkinje cells in Crus I and II of the posterior lobe cerebellar hemisphere to activation of peripheral afferents in vivo, using anaesthetized rats. Recordings were made from 70 Golgi cells and 76 Purkinje cells. Purkinje cells were identified by the presence of climbing fibre responses. Golgi cells were identified by both spontaneous firing pattern and response properties, and identification was confirmed using juxtacellular labelling of single neurones (n = 16). Purkinje cells in Crus II showed continuous firing at relatively high rates (25-60 Hz) and stimulation of peripheral afferents rarely evoked substantial responses. The most common response was a modest, long-latency, long-lasting increase in simple spike output. By comparison, the most common response evoked in Golgi cells by the same stimuli was a long-latency, long-lasting depression of firing, found in approximately 70% of the Golgi cells tested. The onsets of Golgi cell depressions had shorter latencies than the Purkinje cell excitations. Brief, short-latency excitations and reductions in firing were also evoked in some Golgi cells, and rarely in Purkinje cells, but in most cases long-lasting depressions were the only significant change in spike firing. Golgi cell responses could be evoked using air puff or tactile stimuli and under four different anaesthetic regimens. Long-lasting responses in both neurone types could be evoked from wide receptive fields, in many cases including distal afferents from all four limbs, as well as from trigeminal afferents. These Golgi cell responses are not consistent with the conventional feedback inhibition or 'gain control' models of Golgi cell function. They suggest instead that cerebellar cortical activity can be powerfully modulated by the general level of peripheral afferent activation from much of the body. On this basis, Golgi cells may act as a context-specific gate on transmission through the mossy fibre-granule cell pathway.