This study shows the effects of noradrenaline (NA) on receptive fields of auditory cortex neurons in awake animals; it is the first one to describe the effects of NA on neurons in sensory cortex, in different natural states of vigilance. The frequency receptive field of 250 auditory cortex neurons was determined before, during and after ionophoretic application of NA while recording the state of vigilance of unanaesthetized guinea-pigs. When NA significantly changed the spontaneous activity (85 out of 250 cells), the dominant effect was a decrease (61 out of 85 cells, 72%). When NA significantly changed the evoked activity (107 out of 250 cells), the dominant effect was also a decrease (84 out of 107 cells, 78%). During and after NA application, the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N, i.e. evoked/spontaneous activity) was unchanged, but the selectivity for pure-tone frequencies was enhanced. When the effects occurring in wakefulness and in slow-wave sleep (SWS) were compared, it appeared that the predominantly inhibitory effect of NA on spontaneous and evoked activity was present in both states. The S/N ratio was unchanged and the selectivity was increased in both states. However, during SWS, the percentage of cells inhibited by NA was lower, and the effects on the frequency selectivity were smaller than in wakefulness. In contrast, GABA produced similar inhibitory effects on spontaneous and on evoked activity during wakefulness and SWS. Comparisons with previous data obtained using the same protocol in urethane anaesthetized animals (Manunta & Edeline 1997) indicate that the effects of NA were qualitatively the same. Based on these results, we suggest that any hypothesis concerning the role of NA in cortical plasticity should take into account the fact that the predominantly inhibitory effects of NA lead to decrease the size of the receptive field.