We have shown previously that ischemia in an isolated rat lung that is normally oxygenated by continued ventilation results in lipid and protein oxidation, indicating the generation of reactive oxygen species. By using a variety of biochemical and imaging techniques, we determined that the initial response, which occurs within the first second of ischemia, is partial depolarization of the endothelial cell plasma membrane. This event is followed within several seconds by activation of endothelial NADPH oxidase and generation of superoxide anion at the extracellular surface of the cell membrane where it is dismutated to freely diffusible H2O2. Approximately 15 secs after the onset of ischemia, we detected an elevation of intracellular Ca2+ caused by its release from intracellular stores, followed by Ca2+ influx, possibly through T-type voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels. Increased nitric oxide generation through activation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase is detected after about 45 secs of ischemia. These changes (endothelial membrane depolarization, reactive oxygen species production, elevation of intracellular Ca2+ levels, and nitric oxide generation) were confirmed in isolated endothelial cells that had been adapted to shear stress in vitro. The in vitro model also demonstrates reactive oxygen species-dependent activation of nuclear factor-kappaB and activator protein-1 and that 24 hrs of ischemia results in increased cell division. These results indicate a novel cell-signaling pathway in response to loss of shear stress. The basis for these changes in endothelial function is related to mechanotransduction, i.e., altered shear stress rather than a metabolic response to ischemia. The biological function for the response may be an attempt to restore blood flow through vasodilatation and new capillary formation.