Human mesenchymal stem cell (hMSC) differentiation into osteoblasts and the signaling events involved are poorly understood. We recently established that contact with specific extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins, in particular laminin-5, is sufficient to induce an osteogenic phenotype in hMSC through an extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK)-dependent pathway. Activation of ERK 1/2 by laminin-5 induces phosphorylation of the runx2/cbfa-1 transcription factor that controls osteogenic gene expression. We hypothesized that focal adhesion kinase (FAK) mediated signaling pathways supply a link between cell surface integrin-ECM binding and activation of ERK 1/2, and that laminin-5 promotes its osteogenic effects through this pathway. To test this hypothesis, we plated hMSC on a laminin-5 matrix in the presence or absence of FAK-specific small inhibitory RNAs (siRNA), and assayed for phosphorylation of runx2/cbfa-1 as well as expression of established osteogenic differentiation markers (bone sialoprotein, osteocalcin, alkaline phosphatase, calcium deposition, and mineral:matrix ratio). We found that siRNA treatment reduced total endogenous FAK protein by ∼40%, and reduced FAK phosphorylation on Y397 by ∼33% in cells plated on laminin-5 for 30 min. SiRNA treated cells exhibited a decrease in ERK 1/2 phosphorylation after 1 h, and reduced serine/threonine phosphorylation of Runx2/Cbfa-1 after 8 days. Finally, FAK inhibition blocked osteogenic differentiation of hMSC, as assessed by lowered expression of osteogenic genes (RT-PCR), decreased alkaline phosphatase activity, greatly reduced calcium deposition, and a lower mineral:matrix ratio after 28 days in culture. These results establish FAK as an important mediator of laminin-5-induced osteogenic differentiation of hMSC. J. Cell. Biochem. 100: 499–514, 2007. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.