1. We studied the responses of rat hypoglossal motoneurones to excitatory current transients (ECTs) using a brainstem slice preparation. Steady, repetitive discharge at rates of 12-25 impulses s-1 was elicited from the motoneurones by injecting long (40 s) steps of constant current. Poisson trains of the ECTs were superimposed on these steps. The effects of additional synaptic noise was simulated by adding a zero-mean random process to the stimuli. 2. We measured the effects of the ECTs on motoneurone discharge probability by compiling peristimulus time histograms (PSTHs) between the times of occurrence of the ECTs and the motoneurone spikes. The ECTs produced modulation of motoneurone discharge similar to that produced by excitatory postsynaptic currents. 3. The addition of noise altered the pattern of the motoneurone response to the current transients: both the amplitude and the area of the PSTH peaks decreased as the power of the superimposed noise was increased. Noise tended to reduce the efficacy of the ECTs, particularly when the motoneurones were firing at lower frequencies. Although noise also increased the firing frequency of the motoneurones slightly, the effects of noise on ECT efficacy did not simply result from noise-induced changes in mean firing rate. 4. A modified version of the experimental protocol was performed in lumbar motoneurones of intact, pentobarbitone-anaesthetized cats. These recordings yielded results similar to those obtained in rat hypoglossal motoneurones in vitro. 5. Our results suggest that the presence of concurrent synaptic inputs reduces the efficacy of any one input. The implications of this change in efficacy and the possible underlying mechanisms are discussed.