Rat olfactory receptor neurons were enzymatically dissociated and studied with the cell-attached configuration of the patch-clamp technique. Biphasic current waveforms induced across the membrane patch by intracellular action potentials were observed in approximately 5% of cells studied. In one cell in particular, current injected by the opening of a single channel initiated an action potential in the remainder of the cell each time the channel opened. A conventional type of electrical model of the cell and patch allowed the accurate modeling of cell excitability. The same model was used to explain the shape of the action potential current waveforms induced across the patch. The analysis indicated that the whole cell resistance (Ro) was approximately 40 G omega and the membrane capacitance (Co) was close to the standard value of 1 microF.cm-2. In addition, the threshold potential change necessary to initiate an action potential (Vth) was approximately 13 mV and a minimum current injection of 1 pA was required to depolarize the cell to spike threshold. When the smaller size of mammalian receptors are taken into account, membrane electrical properties were found to be consistent with those of salamander cells investigated by others using whole-cell recording. The analysis also revealed possible errors in the determination of single-channel conductances and reversal potentials by cell-attached recording from small cells.