Although it is generally presumed that mechanical sensitivity of somatosensory nerve fibers results from the activation of mechanosensitive ion channels, a mechanically-gated whole-cell current has never been demonstrated in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. We performed patch clamp experiments on rat DRG neurons in culture, and report the first mechanically-activated current in somatosensory neurons (I(mech)). This whole-cell current is observed in most dorsal root ganglion neurons but not in non-sensory sympathetic ganglion neurons. The current-voltage relation of I(mech) indicates that it is a non-selective cation current. Sensitivity of I(mech) to block by gadolinium suggests that it may be mediated by a member of a family of mechanosensitive non-selective cation channels observed in many cell types. Sensitivity to benzamil supports this idea, and further suggests that the current might be mediated by a member of the degenerin/ epithelial sodium channel (DEG/ENaC) family.