It is known that electrical current injected from cochlear implant contacts spreads within the cochlea, causing overlapping stimulation fields and possibly limiting the performance of cochlear implant users. We have investigated an alternative mechanism to stimulate auditory neurons in the gerbil cochlea using a laser, rather than electrical current. With the laser, it is possible to direct the light to a selected, known volume of tissue that is smaller than the electrically stimulated population of cells. In the present experiments, a transiently expressed transcription factor, c-FOS, was used to stain activated nerve cells. Immunohistochemical staining for c-FOS in the cochlea shows a small area of optical stimulation, which occurs directly opposite to the optical fiber. Additionally, masking data indicate that the laser can stimulate a small population of cells similar to an acoustic toneburst. Smaller populations of stimulated cells could reduce the amount of overlap in stimulation fields and allow more stimulation contacts in a neuroprothesis.