The somatosensory system mediates fundamental physiological functions, including the senses of touch, pain and proprioception. This variety of functions is matched by a diverse array of mechanosensory neurons that respond to force in a specific fashion. Mechanotransduction begins at the sensory nerve endings, which rapidly transform mechanical forces into electrical signals. Progress has been made in establishing the functional properties of mechanoreceptors, but it has been remarkably difficult to characterize mechanotranducer channels at the molecular level. However, in the past few years, new functional assays have provided insights into the basic properties and molecular identity of mechanotransducer channels in mammalian sensory neurons. The recent identification of novel families of proteins as mechanosensing molecules will undoubtedly accelerate our understanding of mechanotransduction mechanisms in mammalian somatosensation.