The normal loading of joints during daily activities causes the articular cartilage to be exposed to high levels of intermittent hydrostatic pressure. This study quantified effects of intermittent hydrostatic pressure on expression of mRNA for important extracellular matrix constituents. Normal adult bovine articular chondrocytes were isolated and tested in primary culture, either as high-density monolayers or formed aggregates. Loaded cells were exposed to 10 MPa of intermittent hydrostatic pressure at a frequency of 1 Hz for periods of 2, 4, 8, 12, and 24 hrs. Other cells were intermittently loaded for a period of 4 hrs per day for 4 days. Semiquantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction assays were used to assess mRNA signal levels for collagen types II and I and aggrecan. The results showed that type II collagen mRNA signal levels exhibited a biphasic pattern, with an initial increase of approximately five-fold at 4 and 8 hrs that subsequently decreased by 24 hrs. In contrast, aggrecan mRNA signal increased progressively up to three-fold throughout the loading period. Changing the loading profile to 4 hrs per day for 4 days increased the mRNA signal levels for type II collagen nine-fold and for aggrecan twenty-fold when compared to unloaded cultures. These data suggest that specific mechanical loading protocols may be required to optimally promote repair and regeneration of diseased joints.