This study tested the effects of fluid-induced shear on high density monolayer cultures of adult articular chondrocytes. Fluid-induced shear (1.6 Pa) was applied by cone viscometer to normal human and bovine articular chondrocytes for periods of 24, 48, and 72 hours. At 48 and 72 hours, fluid-induced shear caused individual chondrocytes to elongate and align tangential to the direction of cone rotation. Fluid-induced shear stimulated glycosaminoglycan synthesis by 2-fold (p < 0.05) and increased the length of newly synthesized chains in human and bovine chondrocytes. In human chondrocytes, the hydrodynamic size of newly synthesized proteoglycans also was increased. After 48 hours of fluid-induced shear, the release of prostaglandin E2 from the chondrocytes was increased 10 to 20-fold. In human chondrocytes, mRNA signal levels for tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase increased 9-fold in response to shear compared with the controls. In contrast, mRNA signal levels for the neutral metalloproteinases, collagenase, stromelysin, and 72 kD gelatinase, did not show such major changes. This study demonstrated that articular chondrocyte metabolism responds directly to physical stimulation in vitro and suggests that mechanical loading may directly influence cartilage homeostasis in vivo.