The acoustic startle reflex in the rat is inhibited if a relatively weak stimulus precedes the startle-eliciting tone burst. This research explored the effect of brief silent periods (gaps) in white noise on the startle reflex, in order to describe the limits of temporal resolution in the auditory system of the rat. Brief silent periods did depress reflex behavior, and two responsible processes were identified. One was most evident at a 190-msec lead time between gap and startle tone. It yielded a linear decrement in reflex expression over a dynamic range of 0-7 msec, and an estimate for the threshold of temporal acuity of 3.5 msec. The second was evident primarily at a 40-msec interstimulus interval and had a linear effect over a dynamic range of at least 40 msec. Very brief gaps had a greater inhibitory effect at the 190-msec interval between gap and startle stimulus; prolonged gaps had their greater effect at the 40-msec interval. The first process was identified as reflex inhibition, which is sensitive to the sensory properties of the lead stimulus. The second process was identified as sensory adaptation, produced by noise exposure but unmasked by silence.