Impulse activity of individual neurons in the nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) was recorded from chair-restrained, unanesthetized cynomolgus monkeys. LC activity was closely related to the behavioral state of the animal. In alert waking, LC neurons displayed continuous, moderately irregular activity. In contrast, prolonged pauses in activity accompanied drowsiness. These pauses preceded eye closure and occurred 1-3 s before the onset of slow-wave EEG. At awakening, LC activation preceded by up to 3 s desynchronized EEG and eye opening. LC activity during alertness varied tonically. During behavioral agitation LC activity was higher than during goal-directed task behavior (described below). In addition to these changes in tonic activity, LC neurons were also phasically responsive to certain sensory stimuli. These cells responded selectively to unexpected, meaningful sounds. LC neurons were also recorded during a visual oddball discrimination task in which the monkey was required to selectively release a lever in response to an infrequent visual cue (target cue; CS+) to receive juice reward. LC neurons were selectively activated by CS+ cues in this task; no other task events evoked LC activity. The mean latency of CS+ response was 108 ms (90 ms for multicell recordings), more than 150 ms prior to the behavioral response (lever release). These responses became smaller in later epochs during the session, along with deteriorating task performance. It is proposed that these short-lasting stimulus-evoked LC responses may help optimize behavioral responses and increase vigilance to subsequent sensory stimuli. Together, LC may contribute both to maintaining tonic levels of vigilance and to phasically modulating the current vigilance level in a stimulus-dependent mode.