Acoustic information in auditory nerve discharges is integrated in the cochlear nuclei, and ascends through several parallel pathways to higher centers. Octopus cells of the posteroventral cochlear nucleus form a pathway known to carry information in the timing of action potentials. Octopus cells have dendrites oriented to receive converging input from many auditory nerve fibers. In all 34 intracellular recordings from anatomically identified octopus cells in slices, shocks to the auditory nerve evoked brief, consistent, graded EPSPs. EPSPs were about 1 msec in duration. At all but the lowest shock strengths, the delays between shocks and the peaks of resultant EPSPs had SDs of 0.02 msec. Polysynaptic excitation, perhaps arising from the axon collaterals of octopus cells, was observed. No detectable glycinergic or GABAergic inhibition was evoked with shocks. The input resistances were low, around 10 M omega, voltage changes were rapid, with time constants of about 1 msec, and action potentials were small. The low input resistance resulted in part from a Cs(+)-sensitive conductance. In the presence of 10 or 15 mM extracellular Cs+ the time constants increased 20-fold in the hyperpolarizing voltage range. As several subthreshold inputs were required to produce suprathreshold responses, octopus cells detect the coincident firing of auditory nerve fibers. Under physiological conditions the low input resistance and resulting short time constant limit the time over which temporal summation of excitation from auditory nerve fibers can occur and thus provide temporal precision to electrical signaling.