We have used the guinea pig isolated temporal bone preparation to investigate changes in the non-linear properties of the tone-evoked cochlear potentials during reversible step displacements of the basilar membrane towards either the scala tympani or the scala vestibuli. The position shifts were produced by changing the hydrostatic pressure in the scala tympani. The pressures involved were calculated from measurements of the fluid flow through the system, and the cochlear DC impedance calculated (1.5 x 10(11) kg m-4 s-1, n = 10). Confocal microscopic visualization of the organ of Corti showed that pressure increases in the scala tympani caused alterations of the position of the reticular lamina and stereocilia bundles. For low pressures, there was a sigmoidal relation between the DC pressure applied to the scala tympani (and thus the position shift of the organ of Corti) and the amplitude of the summating potential. The cochlear microphonic potential also showed a pronounced dependence on the applied pressure: pressure changes altered the amplitude of the fundamental as well as its harmonics. In addition, the sound pressure level at which the responses began to saturate was increased, implying a transition towards a linear behaviour. An increase of the phase lag of the cochlear microphonic potential was seen when the basilar membrane was shifted towards the scala vestibuli. We have also measured the intracochlear DC pressure using piezoresistive pressure transducers. The results are discussed in terms of changes in the non-linear properties of cochlear transduction. In addition, the implications of these results for the pathophysiology and diagnosis of Meniérè's disease are discussed.