The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and its adrenergic input are key components in stress-induced reinstatement and maintenance of drug use. Intra-BNST injections of either beta-adrenergic receptor (beta-AR) antagonists or alpha2-adrenergic receptor (alpha2-AR) agonists can inhibit footshock-induced reinstatement and maintenance of cocaine- and morphine-seeking. Using electrophysiological recording methods in an in vitro slice preparation from C57/Bl6j adult male mouse BNST, we have examined the effects of adrenergic receptor activation on excitatory synaptic transmission in the lateral dorsal supracommissural BNST (dBNST) and subcommissural BNST (vBNST). Alpha2-AR activation via UK-14,304 (10 microM) results in a decrease in excitatory transmission in both dBNST and vBNST, an effect predominantly dependent upon the alpha2A-AR subtype. Beta-AR activation via isoproterenol (1 microM) results in an increase in excitatory transmission in dBNST, but not in vBNST. Consistent with the work with receptor subtype specific agonists, application of the endogenous ligand norepinephrine (NE, 100 microM) elicits two distinct effects on glutamatergic transmission. In dBNST, NE elicits an increase in transmission (62% of dBNST NE experiments) or a decrease in transmission (38% of dBNST NE experiments). In vBNST, NE elicits a decrease in transmission in 100% of the experiments. In dBNST, the NE-induced increase in synaptic transmission is blocked by beta1/beta2- and beta2-, but not beta1-specific antagonists. In addition, this increase is also reduced by the alpha2-AR antagonist yohimbine and is absent in the alpha2A-AR knockout mouse. In vBNST, the NE-induced decrease in synaptic transmission is markedly reduced in the alpha2A-AR knockout mouse. Further experiments demonstrate that the actions of NE on glutamatergic transmission can be correlated with beta-AR function.