Arousal depends on the concerted activity of the ascending arousal system (AAS) but specific stimuli may primarily activate some nuclei of this system. Motivated behaviours are characterized by behavioural arousal, although it is not known which AAS nuclei are active during a motivated behaviour. To address this issue, rats were rendered motivated for food by fasting them for 1 day and then were enticed with food that they could not obtain for varying periods of time. We studied the level of arousal by polysomnography or radiotelemetry, and Fos-ir in the AAS, during food enticing. We found a strong arousal and an early increase in Fos-ir in the histaminergic neurons from the tuberomammillary nucleus, after 30 min of enticing, followed by increased Fos-ir in the whole AAS if food enticing was prolonged to 1 or 2 hours. In contrast, food presentation to non-motivated rats did not increase arousal or Fos-ir in the tuberomammillary nucleus. As opposed to the active arousal of the motivated rats, passive arousal induced by sensory stimulation was associated with increased Fos-ir in the locus coeruleus and the orexin neurons, but not with increased Fos-ir in the tuberomammillary nucleus or in the other nuclei of the AAS. We conclude that the arousal during feeding-related motivated behaviour is associated primarily with the activation of the tuberomammillary nucleus, while the other arousal-related nuclei become active later on.