The hypocretin/orexin (Hcrt)-containing neurones within the lateral hypothalamus integrate nutritional, energetic and behavioural cues to generate the final output in order to exert their functions. It is still not clear how Hcrt neurones monitor changes in energy status in animals. In brain slices from transgenic mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) exclusively in Hcrt neurones, we examined the roles of intracellular levels of ATP ([ATP](i)) in regulating activities in these cells with conventional and perforated whole-cell recording. By using 'ATP clamp' we demonstrated that membrane potential (V(m)) correlated with the [ATP](i) in Hcrt neurones. Perforated recording revealed a V(m) of -46.1 ± 1.6 mV (n = 18), close to the level measured with an [ATP](i) equal to 5-6 mm (-48.7 ± 1.4 mV, n = 16, 5 mm ATP), suggesting that a unique demand for energy is required to maintain normal functionality in Hcrt cells. A direct disruption of ATP production or reduction in ambient glucose levels resulted in an inhibition of activity in Hcrt neurones. The V(m) was significantly depolarized in Hcrt neurones in sleep-deprived mice as compared with controls (P < 0.01, t test), which was eliminated by experimental manipulations causing the same level of [ATP](i) and K(ATP) channel opening in both groups, suggesting a decrease during sleep and an increase during sustained wakefulness in [ATP](i) in Hcrt cells. In summary, these data demonstrate that a delicate control of activity by monitoring the availability of intracellular energy stores in Hcrt cells may serve as a novel mechanism regulating energy expenditure and behavioural state dependent upon the energy state in animals.