Chick epiphyseal chondrocytes were grown in high density cultures for 14 days, after which the cell layers were placed in a cyclical stretching apparatus and subjected to a strain of 5.5% at a frequency of 0.2 Hz. There was a 1.4- and 1.7-fold increase in the incorporation of 35SO4 and 14C-glucosamine, respectively, into glycosaminoglycans in cultures subjected to mechanical loading for 24 h. No significant change was observed in the hydrodynamic size of the proteoglycans synthesized by chondrocytes subjected to mechanical loading. In this time period there was no increase in 3H-glycine incorporation into acid-insoluble protein, but there was a 2.4-fold increase of 3H-thymidine into DNA in cultures subjected to tensional strain. Concomitant with these changes, the cellular levels of cyclic AMP increased 2.2 times in the mechanically loaded cultures. This is discussed as a possible mechanism whereby chondrocytes respond to mechanical stimuli.