Tapentadol is a novel analgesic that combines moderate μ-opioid receptor agonism and noradrenaline reuptake inhibition in a single molecule. Both mechanisms of action are involved in producing analgesia; however, the potency and efficacy of tapentadol in individual neurons has not been characterized. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings of G-protein-coupled inwardly rectifying K(+) (KIR 3.x) currents were made from rat locus coeruleus neurons in brain slices to investigate the potency and relative efficacy of tapentadol and compare its intrinsic activity with other clinically used opioids. Tapentadol showed agonist activity at μ receptors and was approximately six times less potent than morphine with respect to KIR 3.x current modulation. The intrinsic activity of tapentadol was lower than [Met]enkephalin, morphine and oxycodone, but higher than buprenorphine and pentazocine. Tapentadol inhibited the noradrenaline transporter (NAT) with potency similar to that at μ receptors. The interaction between these two mechanisms of action was additive in individual LC neurons. Tapentadol displays similar potency for both µ receptor activation and NAT inhibition in functioning neurons. The intrinsic activity of tapentadol at the μ receptor lies between that of buprenorphine and oxycodone, potentially explaining the favourable profile of side effects, related to μ receptors. This article is part of a themed section on Opioids: New Pathways to Functional Selectivity. To view the other articles in this section visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2015.172.issue-2.