Intracerebral cannulas were implanted in both olfactory bulbs of 6 rabbits. A surface electrode-array (8 X 8) was implanted epidurally on the lateral surface of the left bulb. Each rabbit was conditioned to respond to sniffing to an odor paired with cutaneous shock while receiving continuous intrabulbar infusion of either vehicle or propranolol (100 microM at 1 microliter/hr) in vehicle. After two training sessions to the original odor, a response to a new odor was conditioned under the influence of the alternate infusate. Electroencephalographic (EEG) activity was sampled on inspirations before and during odor presentations. During vehicle infusion a transient alteration in the pattern of activity was acquired that occurred during the second and third inspirations following presentation of the reinforced odor. The acquisition did not occur when propranolol was infused. No significant pattern changes occurred with unreinforced odors in either condition. There was no local anesthetic effect of the racemic mixture of propranolol found for any type of electric activity, including antidromic spike activity observed in an independent control group. Intrabulbar norepinephrine injection (100 microM, 10 microL) resulted in an amplitude increase of the bulbar 40-80-Hz EEG and a potentiation of the transient spatial pattern change to a novel odor, when compared with those observed during vehicle infusion. It is concluded that norepinephrine released under centrifugal control may act to prevent or delay habituation that otherwise occurs rapidly to unreinforced odors.