Whole cell patch recordings were obtained from medium diameter (35-45 microm) dorsal root ganglion neurons. Using electrophysiological parameters, we were able to subclassify acutely dissociated dorsal root ganglion cells into three uniform (types 5, 6 and 9) and one mixed class (type 8) of neurons. All subtypes (types 5, 6, 8 and 9) had broad action potentials (7.0+/-0.2, 5.2+/-0.4, 7.3+/-0.5 and 6.0+/-0.4 ms) and exceptionally long afterhyperpolarizations (112+/-9, 178+/-19, 124+/-31 and 204+/-33 ms). Long afterhyperpolarizations have been linked to mechanically insensitive (silent) nociceptors by other laboratories [Djouhri et al., J. Physiol. 513 (1998) 857-872]. Chemosensitivity varied among cell classes. Cell types 5, 8 and 9 were capsaicin sensitive (45+/-13, 87+/-30 and 28+/-13 pA/pF; 5 microM) groups, while the type 6 cell was capsaicin insensitive. All cell types expressed ASIC-like (acid sensing ion channel) amiloride sensitive, proton-activated currents with a threshold of pH 6.8 and a peak near pH 5.0. All medium sized cells were sensitive to ATP (50 microM) and exhibited the 'mixed' form of ATP-gated current [Burgard et al., J. Neurophysiol. 82 (1999) 1590-1598; Grubb and Evans, Eur. J. Neurosci. 11 (1999) 149-154]. Immunohistochemistry performed on individual cells indicated the expression of both P2X(1) and P2X(3) subunits. Electrophysiologically defined classes were histochemically uniform. All types were examined for the presence of substance P (SP), calcitonin gene related peptide (CGRP) and binding of isolectin B4 (IB4). All subtypes expressed CGRP immunoreactivity. Types 5 and 8 co-expressed SP and CGRP immunoreactivity and also bound IB4. Subtypes 6 and 9 were positive for neurofilament m. It is likely that these cells represent major classes of myelinated and unmyelinated peptide expressing nociceptors.