Lidocaine, a use-dependent Na(+) channel blocker, paradoxically evokes neural activation in the slowly adapting stretch receptor organ of crayfish at 5-10 mmol/l concentration. For elucidating the underlying mechanisms of this paradoxical effect, a series of conventional electrophysiological experiments were performed in the stretch receptor neurons of crayfish. In the presence of tetrodotoxin, lidocaine did not evoke impulse activity, however, a slowly developing and dose-dependent depolarization occurred in both the rapidly and slowly adapting stretch receptors. Similar effects were observed by perfusion of equivalent concentrations of benzocaine but not of procaine or prilocaine. Lidocaine did not evoke neural activity in the rapidly adapting neuron which fires action potential(s) in response to rapid changes in membrane potential. Slowly developing mode of the depolarization indicated the reason why only depolarization but not action potential responses were observed in the rapidly adapting neuron. The depolarizing effect of lidocaine was independent from any ionic channel or exchanger system. However, lidocaine and benzocaine but not procaine and prilocaine evoked a dose-dependent alteration in the input resistance of the neuron. It was proposed that the principal mechanism of the effect could stem from a change in the physical properties of the neuronal membrane.