Abstract Locus coeruleus (LC) neurones extend noradrenergic projections throughout the neuroaxis and are involved in homeostatic functions such as pain modulation, arousal and cardio-respiratory control. To address the cellular mechanisms underlying pain modulation we have developed a patch-clamp recording technique from LC neurones in anaesthetized rats. These recordings showed LC discharge in vivo to be driven by both spontaneous membrane potential oscillations and CNQX-sensitive EPSCs opposed by bicuculine-sensitive IPSCs. Hindlimb pinch evoked a biphasic action potential response underpinned by a slow monophasic excitatory current. This approach allows detailed characterisation of the synaptic and integrative mechanisms of LC responses to naturalistic stimulation.