The dynamic adjustment of hearing sensitivity and frequency selectivity is mediated by the medial olivocochlear efferent reflex, which suppresses the gain of the 'cochlear amplifier' in each ear. Such efferent feedback is important for promoting discrimination of sounds in background noise, sound localization and protecting the cochleae from acoustic overstimulation. However, the sensory driver for the olivocochlear reflex is unknown. Here, we resolve this longstanding question using a mouse model null for the gene encoding the type III intermediate filament peripherin (Prph). Prph((-/-)) mice lacked type II spiral ganglion neuron innervation of the outer hair cells, whereas innervation of the inner hair cells by type I spiral ganglion neurons was normal. Compared with Prph((+/+)) controls, both contralateral and ipsilateral olivocochlear efferent-mediated suppression of the cochlear amplifier were absent in Prph((-/-)) mice, demonstrating that outer hair cells and their type II afferents constitute the sensory drive for the olivocochlear efferent reflex.