We hypothesized that intestinal afferent pathways inducing perception may be selectively activated by transmucosal electrical nerve stimulation, without disruption of the intrinsic myoelectrical rhythm. Hence, in 12 healthy subjects we measured perception (by a questionnaire) and jejunal slow wave activity (by electromyography), and we randomly applied for 1 min at 5-min intervals graded electrical (15 Hz, 100 microseconds) and mechanical stimuli (balloon distension) in the jejunum up to the respective discomfort threshold. Electrical and mechanical stimuli induced dose-related perception; the perception and discomfort thresholds were 39 +/- 7 and 63 +/- 6 mA and 31 +/- 3 and 49 +/- 5 ml for electrical and mechanical stimuli, respectively. More than one-half of electrical stimuli elicited clinical-type symptoms (abdominal pressure, fullness, colicky or sharp sensation) similar to those induced by mechanical stimuli; the remaining electrical stimuli (38 +/- 10%) induced paresthesia or flutterlike sensation. Similar types of symptoms were perceived with weak and strong stimuli. Jejunal slow wave activity (11.3 +/- 0.4 cycles/min) was not modified by either stimuli. We conclude that activation of intestinal sensory pathways, either by transmucosal nerve stimulation or via mechanoreceptors, induces a similar dose-related symptomatic response, without interfering with the intrinsic myoelectrical activity.