Light and electron microscopy have been used to evaluate the effects of treating mouse cochlear cultures with the ototoxic aminoglycoside antibiotic neomycin sulphate at concentrations of 0.2 mM and greater for periods of up to 1 hour. Neomycin rapidly induces the formation of numerous, membrane filled blisters on the apical surfaces of the sensory hair cells. Such morphological damage is restricted to the hair cells, and is not observed on the surfaces of supporting cells within the organ of Corti. Hair cells in apical-coil cultures are less sensitive than those in basal-coil cultures, and, at any given point along the cochlea, outer hair cells appear to be more extensively damaged by neomycin than inner hair cells. These morphological effects of neomycin are considerably more severe when the drug is applied in calcium/magnesium free saline, and can be blocked by elevating the saline concentration of either calcium or magnesium. The effects can also be blocked by lowering the temperature to 4 degrees C, but not by either K+ depolarization or the lectin Concanavalin A. The potential value of this culture system as a model for studying aminoglycoside induced ototoxicity is discussed.