The locus coeruleus-noradrenaline (LC-NA) system exhibits an early developmental pattern, so that its nerve terminals are present in target areas before formation of most synapses. Several properties of the source neurons in the LC change substantially during early postnatal periods: spontaneous activity patterns, responsiveness to sensory stimulation, and responsiveness to NA. The effect may be to confer enhanced responsiveness of LC neurons, and an enhanced release of NA in target areas, during early postnatal development. Developmental changes in density of adrenoceptors or adrenergic responsiveness in target areas have also been documented. The usual pattern is a progressive increase in adrenergic ligand binding, with some reduction during later phases of development. However, there are a number of examples of receptor subtypes and region-specific transient binding during the first few weeks of postnatal life, followed by reductions to very low levels. These observations may reflect developmentally transient adrenergic responsiveness in certain target areas. NA and the LC-NA system have been implicated in the control of morphological and functional properties of neurons in target areas, and in the control of developmentally important biochemical systems (ornithine decarboxylase). NA, as well as other neurotransmitters, may individually, or in cooperation, exert important trophic influences during a restricted developmental period.