Extracellular recording, intracellular recording, intracellular horseradish peroxidase injection, and receptive field mapping techniques were employed to evaluate the physiological and morphological properties of medial ventral posterior nucleus (VPM) and posterior nucleus (POm) neurons in normal adult rats. Overall, we physiologically characterized 148 VPM and 121 POm neurons. Over 82% of the VPM cells were excited only by deflection of one or more mystacial vibrissae, 10% were activated by displacement of guard hairs, and the remainder were either excited by indentation of the skin or were unresponsive. Less than 40% of the POm cells were activated by vibrissa deflection, 18% were excited by displacement of guard hairs, and another 17% were unresponsive. Most of the rest of the POm cells were excited by stimulation of skin, mucosa, or activation of muscle-related afferents. Small percentages of POm cells responded only to noxious stimulation, were classified as having a wide dynamic range, or were inhibited by peripheral stimulation. Electrical stimulation of either PrV or SpI activated most neurons in both VPM and POm. This excitation was almost invariably followed by a long-lasting hyperpolarization which was generally strong enough to prevent responses to either electrical stimuli delivered in the brainstem or mechanical stimulation of the periphery. The receptive fields of vibrissa-sensitive cells in POm were generally much larger than those of cells in VPM. Data obtained with extracellular recording indicated that VPM and POm cells responded to an average of 1.4 and 4.0 vibrissae, respectively. Intracellular recording from smaller samples of VPM and POm cells demonstrated the existence of inputs that were insufficient to produce spikes from the cell, but did yield epsp's. When both sub- and suprathreshold excitation were considered, the average number of vibrissa in the receptive field of a VPM cell was 2.7 and the value for POm cells became 7.8. HRP-filled neurons recovered in POm (N = 20) generally had much larger dendritic arbors than neurons in VPM (N = 31). For the former cells, the size of the dendritic tree was significantly correlated with the number of vibrissa to which the cell responded; for the latter neurons, it was not.