To study the cellular mechanisms of efferent actions, we recorded from vestibular-nerve afferents close to the turtle posterior crista while efferent fibers were electrically stimulated. Efferent-mediated responses were obtained from calyx-bearing (CD, calyx and dimorphic) afferents and from bouton (B) afferents distinguished by their neuroepithelial locations into BT units near the torus and BM units at intermediate sites. The spike discharge of CD units is strongly excited by efferent stimulation, whereas BT and BM units are inhibited, with BM units also showing a postinhibitory excitation. Synaptic activity was recorded intracellularly after spikes were blocked. Responses of BT/BM units to single efferent shocks consist of a brief depolarization followed by a prolonged hyperpolarization. Both components reflect variations in hair-cell quantal release rates and are eliminated by pharmacological antagonists of alpha9/alpha10 nicotinic receptors. Blocking calcium-dependent SK potassium channels converts the biphasic response into a prolonged depolarization. Results can be explained, as in other hair-cell systems, by the sequential activation of alpha9/alpha10 and SK channels. In BM units, the postinhibitory excitation is based on an increased rate of hair-cell quanta and depends on the preceding inhibition. There is, in addition, an efferent-mediated, direct depolarization of BT/BM and CD fibers. In CD units, it is the exclusive efferent response. Nicotinic antagonists have different effects on hair-cell efferent actions and on the direct depolarization of CD and BT/BM units. Ultrastructural studies, besides confirming the efferent innervation of type II hair cells and calyx endings, show that turtle efferents commonly contact afferent boutons terminating on type II hair cells.