The transduction of the auditory signal is dependent on the flow of ions within the inner ear. We have generated mice deficient in NKCC1, an ion cotransporter that is thought to be involved in the secretion of K+ by the strial marginal cells. Inner ear histology revealed partial to almost total absence of the scala media and collapse of Reissner's membrane. Ultrastructural analysis showed that Reissner's membrane consists of 3-4 cell layers instead of the usual two, and a substance of unknown composition is present between Reissner's membrane and underlying structures. Within the tunnel of Corti, hair cells and supporting cells were difficult to identify. The location of the tectorial membrane was altered, and a precipitate was observed surrounding it. Severe structural defects were noted in the interdental cells and Boettcher cells, and mild defects were observed in the stria vascularis and in type II and type IV fibrocytes. The finding that major defects occur predominantly in cells that are not known to express NKCC1 suggests that loss of NKCC1 results in functional defects in cells expressing NKCC1 and a morphological effect on cell populations downstream in the proposed K+ recycling pathway.