Data from systematic, light microscopic examination of cochlear histopathology in an age-graded series of C57BL/6 mice (1.5-15 months) were compared with threshold elevations (measured by auditory brain stem response) to elucidate the functionally important structural changes underlying age-related hearing loss in this inbred strain. In addition to quantifying the degree and extent of hair cell and neuronal loss, all structures of the cochlear duct were qualitatively evaluated and any degenerative changes were quantified. Hair cell and neuronal loss patterns suggested two degenerative processes. In the basal half of the cochlea, inner and outer hair cell loss proceeded from base to apex with increasing age, and loss of cochlear neurons was consistent with degeneration occurring secondary to inner hair cell loss. In the apical half of the cochlea with advancing age, there was selective loss of outer hair cells which increased from the middle to the extreme apex. A similar gradient of ganglion cell loss was noted, characterized by widespread somatic aggregation and demyelination. In addition to these changes in hair cells and their innervation, there was widespread degeneration of fibrocytes in the spiral ligament, especially among the type IV cell class. The cell loss in the ligament preceded the loss of hair cells and/or neurons in both space and time suggesting that fibrocyte pathology may be a primary cause of the hearing loss and ultimate sensory cell degeneration in this mouse strain.