Locus Coeruleus Norepinephrine in Learned Behavior: Anatomical Modularity and Spatiotemporal Integration in Targets

Front Neural Circuits. 2021 Jun 7:15:638007. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2021.638007. eCollection 2021.


The locus coeruleus (LC), a small brainstem nucleus, is the primary source of the neuromodulator norepinephrine (NE) in the brain. The LC receives input from widespread brain regions, and projects throughout the forebrain, brainstem, cerebellum, and spinal cord. LC neurons release NE to control arousal, but also in the context of a variety of sensory-motor and behavioral functions. Despite its brain-wide effects, much about the role of LC-NE in behavior and the circuits controlling LC activity is unknown. New evidence suggests that the modular input-output organization of the LC could enable transient, task-specific modulation of distinct brain regions. Future work must further assess whether this spatial modularity coincides with functional differences in LC-NE subpopulations acting at specific times, and how such spatiotemporal specificity might influence learned behaviors. Here, we summarize the state of the field and present new ideas on the role of LC-NE in learned behaviors.

Keywords: arousal; inhibition; learned behavior; learning; locus coeruleus; neuromodulation; noradrenaline (norepinephrine).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arousal
  • Brain
  • Locus Coeruleus*
  • Neurons
  • Norepinephrine*


  • Norepinephrine