Intracellular responses of onset chopper neurons in the ventral cochlear nucleus to tones: evidence for dual-component processing. The ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) contains a heterogeneous collection of cell types reflecting the multiple processing tasks undertaken by this nucleus. This in vivo study in the rat used intracellular recordings and dye filling to examine membrane potential changes and firing characteristics of onset chopper (OC) neurons to acoustic stimulation (50 ms pure tones, 5 ms r/f time). Stable impalements were made from 15 OC neurons, 7 identified as multipolar cells. Neurons responded to characteristic frequency (CF) tones with sustained depolarization below spike threshold. With increasing stimulus intensity, the depolarization during the initial 10 ms of the response became peaked, and with further increases in intensity the peak became narrower. Onset spikes were generated during this initial depolarization. Tones presented below CF resulted in a broadening of this initial depolarizing component with high stimulus intensities required to initiate onset spikes. This initial component was followed by a sustained depolarizing component lasting until stimulus cessation. The amplitude of the sustained depolarizing component was greatest when frequencies were presented at high intensities below CF resulting in increased action potential firing during this period when compared with comparable high intensities at CF. During the presentation of tones at or above the high-frequency edge of a cell's response area, hyperpolarization was evident during the sustained component. The presence of hyperpolarization and the differences seen in the level of sustained depolarization during CF and off CF tones suggests that changes in membrane responsiveness between the initial and sustained components may be attributed to polysynaptic inhibitory mechanisms. The dual-component processing resulting from convergent auditory nerve excitation and polysynaptic inhibition enables OC neurons to respond in a unique fashion to intensity and frequency features contained within an acoustic stimulus.