Membrane recycling in the mechanoreceptive sensory cells of the mammalian cochlea was studied by observing membrane-bound horseradish peroxidase (HRP) reaction product following brief in vivo exposure to the enzyme. In the inner hair cell (IHC), peroxidase was taken up into coated vesicles and became incorporated into synaptic vesicles surrounding presynaptic bodies, but much HRP was also transported to the apical zone where reaction product appeared in all components of the Golgi complex. Neither the subsurface cisternae nor a tubular network associated with clusters of mitochondria were labelled. Outer hair cells (OHCs) showed considerably less membrane-bound reaction product than IHCs, indicating less rapid plasmalemmal recycling. Most membrane-bound reaction product was contained in coated vesicles and small vacuoles in the synaptic zone, but was occasionally seen in multivesicular bodies in the most apical zone. No labelled organelles were detected in the large central region of the OHC. A diffuse staining of the cytoplasm, particularly pronounced in OHCs, often interfered with the evaluation of membrane-bound reaction product in OHCs. This staining pattern could be qualitatively reproduced in both IHCs and OHCs by incubating fixed segments of the organ of Corti in oxidized diaminobenzidine. The presence of labelled synaptic vesicles associated with presynaptic bodies of IHCs and OHCs suggests that they are formed from membrane retrieved from the plasmalemma. We found no evidence that the subsurface cisternae of IHCs or the laminated cisternae of OHCs are derived from the cell surface as they never contained reaction product.