Smooth muscle cells are able to adapt rapidly to chemical and mechanical signals impinging on the cell surface. It has been suggested that dynamic changes in the actin cytoskeleton contribute to the processes of contractile activation and mechanical adaptation in smooth muscle. In this review, evidence for functionally important changes in actin polymerization during smooth muscle contraction is summarized. The functions and regulation of proteins associated with "focal adhesion complexes" (membrane-associated dense plaques) in differentiated smooth muscle, including integrins, focal adhesion kinase (FAK), c-Src, paxillin, and the 27-kDa small heat shock protein (HSP27) are described. Integrins in smooth muscles are key elements of mechanotransduction pathways that communicate with and are regulated by focal adhesion proteins that include FAK, c-Src, and paxillin as well as proteins known to mediate cytoskeletal remodeling. Evidence that functions of FAK and c-Src protein kinases are closely intertwined is discussed as well as evidence that focal adhesion proteins mediate key signal transduction events that regulate actin remodeling and contraction. HSP27 is reviewed as a potentially significant effector protein that may regulate actin dynamics and cross-bridge function in response to activation of p21-activated kinase and the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathway by signaling pathways linked to integrin proteins. These signaling pathways are only part of a large number of yet to be defined pathways that mediate acute adaptive responses of the cytoskeleton in smooth muscle to environmental stimuli.