Bacteria subjected to a hypotonic osmotic shock lose internal ions and also metabolites, without lysis of the cells. We show that the presence in the shock medium, at submillimolar concentrations, of the ion gadolinium, recently shown to block stretch-activated channels in Xenopus oocytes [Yang, X.-C. & Sachs, F. (1989) Science 243 1068–1071], was sufficient to inhibit shock-induced release of metabolites such as lactose and ATP in Escherichia coli and ATP in Streptococcus faecalis. Moreover, gadolinium was observed, in patch-clamp experiments, to inhibit the giant stretch-activated channels of E. coli, S. faecalis and Bacillus subtillis. taken together, these data suggest that stretch-activated channels are localized in the cytoplasmic membrane of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, where they control the efflux of osmotic solutes, thus probably playing a major role in the response to hypotonic osmotic shock.