Although Aristotle designated it as one of five basic senses, touch is a complex sense that encompasses numerous modalities (e.g., stretch, pressure, hair movements, vibration). Correspondingly, the touch-sensitive neurons that tile the body's surface display a remarkable array of force sensitivities, neural outputs and cellular morphologies. Although forward genetic screens have identified dozens of essential molecules in invertebrate mechanosensory neurons, we are only now beginning to uncover molecular players that govern the unique functions of touch receptors in mammals. We have developed in vitro and in vivo tools to discover the basis of sensory transduction in a light touch receptor, the Merkel cell-neurite complex. These touch receptors innervate highly sensitive areas such as fingertips, where they encode spatial features of objects. We use neurophysiological techniques to directly observe how individual, living touch receptors respond to force. We also use molecular approaches and mouse genetics to identify molecules that allow mechanoreceptor cells to sense force.