Mood, attention and motivation co-vary with activity in the neuromodulatory systems of the brain to influence behaviour. These psychological states, mediated by neuromodulators, have a profound influence on the cognitive processes of attention, perception and, particularly, our ability to retrieve memories from the past and make new ones. Moreover, many psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders are related to dysfunction of these neuromodulatory systems. Neurons of the brainstem nucleus locus coeruleus are the sole source of noradrenaline, a neuromodulator that has a key role in all of these forebrain activities. Elucidating the factors that control the activity of these neurons and the effect of noradrenaline in target regions is key to understanding how the brain allocates attention and apprehends the environment to select, store and retrieve information for generating adaptive behaviour.