Differentiation of skeletal tissues, such as bone, ligament and cartilage, is regulated by complex interaction between genetic and epigenetic factors. In the present study, we attempted to elucidate the possible role of cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) adhesion on the inhibitory regulation in chondrogenesis responding to the tension force. The midpalatal suture cartilages in rats were expanded by orthopedic force. In situ hybridization for type I and II collagens, immunohistochemical analysis for fibronectin, alpha5 and beta1 integrins, paxillin, and vinculin, and cytochemical staining for actin were used to demonstrate the phenotypic change of chondrocytes. Immunohistochemical analysis for phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-1/2 was performed. The role of the cell-ECM adhesion in the response of the chondroprogenitor cells to mechanical stress and the regulation of gene expression of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and integrins were analyzed by using an in vitro system. A fibrous suture tissue replaced the midpalatal suture cartilage by the expansive force application for 14 days. The active osteoblasts that line the surface of bone matrix in the newly formed suture tissue strongly expressed the type I collagen gene, whereas they did not express the type II collagen gene. Although the numbers of precartilaginous cells expressing alpha5 and beta1 integrin increased, the immunoreactivity of alpha5 integrin in each cell was maintained at the same level throughout the experimental period. During the early response of midpalatal suture cartilage cells to expansive stimulation, formation of stress fibers, reorganization of focal adhesion contacts immunoreactive to a vinculin-specific antibody, and phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of ERK-1/2 were observed. In vitro experiments were in agreement with the results from the in vivo study, i.e. the inhibited expression of type II collagen and upregulation in integrin expression. The arginine-glycine-aspartic acid-containing peptide completely rescued chondrogenesis from tension-mediated inhibition. Thus, we conclude that stretching activates gene expression of beta1 integrin and FAK and inhibits chondrogenesis through cell-ECM interactions of chondroprogenitor cells.