During the early postnatal development of rats, the structural and functional maturation of the central auditory nuclei strongly relies on the natural character of the incoming neural activity. Even a temporary deprivation in the critical period results in a deterioration of neuronal responsiveness in adult animals. We demonstrate that besides the poorer frequency selectivity of neurons in the impaired animals reported previously [Grecova et al. (2009)Eur. J. Neurosci. 29, 1921–1930], the neuronal representation of sound intensity is significantly affected. Rate–intensity functions of inferior colliculus neurons were recorded in anaesthetized adult rats that were exposed to intense noise at postnatal day 14, and compared with those obtained in age-matched controls. Although the response thresholds were similar in the exposed and control rats, the neurons in the exposed animals had a longer first-spike latency, a narrower dynamic range, lower maximum response magnitudes and a steeper slope of the rate–intensity functions. The percentage of monotonic neurons was significantly lower in the exposed animals. The observed anomalies were confined to the mid- and high-frequency regions, whereas no significant changes were found in the low-frequency neurons. The altered parameters of the individual rate–intensity functions led also to differences in the cumulative responses. We conclude that a brief noise exposure during the critical period leads to a frequency-dependent alteration of the sound intensity representation in the inferior colliculus of adult rats. The results suggest that such impairments may appear in individuals with normal hearing thresholds, but with a history of noise exposure very early in childhood.