Thalamic input to the neocortex is crucial for sensory perception and constitutes the basis of complex awake behavior. Connections within the neocortex play an important role in internally generated neural activity, which is considered critical for memory retrieval and for the generation of imagery in our dreams. Modulatory neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline and acetylcholine, gate information transmission in the brain. Favero et al. (J Neurophysiol 108: 1010-1024, 2012) show that modulators differentially facilitate thalamocortical relative to intracortical transmission in the input layers of cortex.