Abstract Included among the exciting findings in auditory neuroscience are (i) central plasticity after peripheral injury and (ii) regeneration of auditory nerve fibres following excitotoxic damage. The present study extends our understanding of auditory system plasticity by examining changes in peripheral and central physiology as the cochlea recovers from temporary deafferentation due to excitotoxicity. Application of kainic acid (60 mM) to the round window membrane substantially depressed responses from both auditory nerve and brain stem (inferior colliculus), without affecting distortion-product otoacoustic emissions from the inner ear. The auditory nerve input/output functions recovered over a 30-day period whereas recovery of brainstem response amplitudes occurred within five days. In contrast to amplitudes, thresholds at both peripheral and central levels recovered simultaneously, within five days after kainic acid application. The results indicate that (i) cochlear afferent neurons can recover after excitotoxic damage; (ii) response threshold itself, either central or peripheral, is not sufficient to assess the integrity of the auditory periphery; (iii) the central auditory system can recover more rapidly than the periphery; and (iv) the system can maintain its function in the normal range as peripheral function continues to improve.