We studied the effect of cyclic mechanical stretching on the proliferation and collagen mRNA expression and protein production of human patellar tendon fibroblasts under serum-free conditions. The role of transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) in collagen production by cyclically stretched tendon fibroblasts was also investigated. The tendon fibroblasts were grown in microgrooved silicone dishes, where the cells were highly elongated and aligned with the microgrooves. Cyclic uniaxial stretching with constant frequency and duration (0.5 Hz, 4 h) but varying magnitude of stretch (no stretch, 4%, and 8%) was applied to the silicone dishes. Following the period of stretching, the cells were rested for 20 h in stretching-conditioned medium to allow for cell proliferation. In separate experiments, the cells were stretched for 4h and then rested for another 4 h. Samples of the medium, total cellular RNA and protein were used for analysis of collagen and TGF-beta1 gene expression and production. It was found that there was a slight increase in fibroblast proliferation at 4% and 8% stretch, compared to that of non-stretched fibroblasts, where at 8% stretch the increase was significant. It was also found that the gene expression and protein production of collagen type I and TGF-beta1 increased in a stretching-magnitude-dependent manner. And, levels of collagen type III were not changed, despite gene expression levels of the protein being slightly increased. Furthermore, the exogenous addition of anti-TGF-beta1 antibody eliminated the increase in collagen type I production under cyclic uniaxial stretching conditions. The results suggest that mechanical stretching can modulate proliferation of human tendon fibroblasts in the absence of serum and increase the cellular production of collagen type I, which is at least in part mediated by TGF-beta1.