Astrocytes produce and release L-lactate as a potential source of energy for neurons. Here we present evidence that L-lactate, independently of its caloric value, serves as an astrocytic signalling molecule in the locus coeruleus (LC). The LC is the principal source of norepinephrine to the frontal brain and thus one of the most influential modulatory centers of the brain. Optogenetically activated astrocytes release L-lactate, which excites LC neurons and triggers release of norepinephrine. Exogenous L-lactate within the physiologically relevant concentration range mimics these effects. L-lactate effects are concentration-dependent, stereo-selective, independent of L-lactate uptake into neurons and involve a cAMP-mediated step. In vivo injections of L-lactate in the LC evokes arousal similar to the excitatory transmitter, L-glutamate. Our results imply the existence of an unknown receptor for this 'glio-transmitter'.