It has long been recognized that noradrenaline, the most abundant catecholamine within the visual cortex, plays important roles in modulating the sensitivity of cortical neurons to visual stimuli. However, whether or not these noradrenaline effects are confined to a discrete synaptic specialization or mediated by diffuse modulation of a group of synapses has remained an issue open for debate. The aim of this study was to examine the cellular basis for noradrenaline action within the visual cortex of adult rats and cats. To this end, I used electron microscopic immunocytochemistry to examine the relationship between (1) catecholamine axon terminals and beta-adrenergic receptors (beta AR), which, together, may define the effective sphere of noradrenaline modulation; and then (2) these putative sites for catecholamine modulation and axospinous asymmetric junctions where excitatory neurotransmission is likely to dominate. Antibodies against beta AR were used at light and electron microscopic levels on the visual cortex of rat and cat. Rat visual cortex was also labeled simultaneously for beta AR and the catecholamine-synthesizing enzyme, tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), to determine the ultrastructural relationships between catecholamine terminals and beta AR. Immunoperoxidase labeling revealed that beta AR404, a polyclonal antibody directed against the C-terminal tail of hamster lung beta AR (beta 2-type), recognized astrocytic processes predominantly. In contrast, beta AR248, a polyclonal antibody directed against the third cytoplasmic loop, recognized neuronal perikarya as observed in previous studies. Dual labeling for beta AR404 and TH revealed that catecholamine axon terminals that contained numerous vesicles formed direct contacts with astrocytic processes exhibiting beta AR404 immunoreactivity. However, some catecholamine axon terminals that lacked dense clusters of vesicles were positioned away from beta AR404- immunoreactive astrocytes. Frequently, beta AR-immunoreactive astrocytic processes surrounded asymmetric axospinous junctions while also contacting catecholamine axon terminals. These observations support the possibility that, through activation of astrocytic beta AR, noradrenaline modulates astrocytic uptake mechanism for excitatory amino acids, such as L-glutamate. Astrocytic beta AR might also define the effective sphere of catecholamine modulation through alterations in the morphology of distal astrocytic processes and the permeability of gap junctions formed between astrocytes.