The present study investigated the effects of iberiotoxin (IbTx), a peptide toxin blocker of large-conductance Ca(2+)-activated K(+) (BK(Ca)) channels and NS1619, a BK(Ca) channel opener, on action potential firing of small and medium size afferent neurons from L6 and S1 dorsal root ganglia of adult rats. Application of IbTx (100 nM) reduced whole-cell outward currents in 67% of small and medium size neurons. Analysis of action potential profile revealed that IbTx significantly prolonged the duration of action potential and increased firing frequency of afferent neurons. IbTx did not significantly alter the resting membrane potential, threshold for action potential activation and action potential amplitude. The benzimidazolone NS1619 (10 microM) increased opening activity of a Ca(2+)-dependent channel as assessed by single channel measurements. In contrast to IbTx, NS1619 reversibly suppressed action potential firing, attributable to increases in threshold for evoking action potential, reduction in action potential amplitude and increases in amplitude of afterhyperpolarization. The effect of NS1619 on neuronal firing was sensitive to IbTx, indicating the attenuation of neuronal firing by NS1619 was mediated by opening BK(Ca) channels. NS1619 also reduced neuronal hyperexcitability evoked by 4-aminopyridine (4-AP), a transient-inactivated K(+) channel (A-current) blocker, in an IbTx-sensitive manner. These results indicate that IbTx-sensitive BK(Ca) channels exist in both small and medium diameter dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons and play important roles in the repolarization of action potential and firing frequency. NS1619 modulates action potential firing and suppresses 4-AP-evoked hyperexcitability in DRG neurons, in part, by opening BK(Ca) channels. These results suggest that opening BK(Ca) channels might be sufficient to suppress hyperexcitability of afferent neurons as those evoked by stimulants or by disease states.