Recordings were made from single afferent fibers in the inferior vestibular nerve, which innervates the saccule and posterior semicircular canal. A substantial portion of the fibers with irregular background activity increased their firing in response to moderately intense clicks and tones. In responsive fibers, acoustic clicks evoked action potentials with minimum latencies of < or = 1.0 msec. Fibers fell into two classes, with the shortest latency either to condensation clicks (PUSH fibers) or to rarefaction clicks (PULL fibers). Low- frequency (800 Hz) tone bursts at moderately high sound levels (> 80 dB SPL) caused synchronization of spikes to preferred phases of the tone cycle. PUSH and PULL fibers had preferred response phases approximately 180 degrees apart. These two response classes are consistent with fibers that innervate hair cells having opposite morphological polarizations, an arrangement found in the saccule. With low-frequency tone bursts, sound levels of > or = 90 dB SPL evoked increases in mean spike rate. Spike rates increased monotonically with sound level without saturating at levels < or = 115 dB SPL. Contraction of the middle-ear muscles decreased responses to sound, consistent with the sound transmission path being through the middle ear. Several fibers were labeled with biocytin and traced. All labeled fibers had bipolar cell bodies in the inferior vestibular ganglion with peripheral processes extending toward the saccular nerve and central processes in the vestibular nerve. Two fibers were traced to the saccular epithelium. One fiber was traced centrally and arborized extensively in vestibular nuclei and a region ventromedial to the cochlear nucleus. Our results confirm and extend previous suggestions that the mammalian saccule responds to sound at frequencies and levels within the normal range of human hearing. We suggest a number of auditory roles that these fibers may play in the everyday life of mammals.