Tissue mechanics provide an important context for tissue growth, maintenance and function. On the level of organs, external mechanical forces largely influence the control of tissue homeostasis by endo- and paracrine factors. On the cellular level, it is well known that most normal cell types depend on physical interactions with their extracellular matrix in order to respond efficiently to growth factors. Fibroblasts and other adherent cells sense changes in physical parameters in their extracellular matrix environment, transduce mechanical into chemical information, and integrate these signals with growth factor derived stimuli to achieve specific changes in gene expression. For connective tissue cells, production of the extracellular matrix is a prominent response to changes in mechanical load. We will review the evidence that integrin-containing cell-matrix adhesion contacts are essential for force transmission from the extracellular matrix to the cytoskeleton, and describe novel experiments indicating that mechanotransduction in fibroblasts depends on focal adhesion adaptor proteins that might function as molecular springs. We will stress the importance of the contractile actin cytoskeleton in balancing external with internal forces, and describe new results linking force-controlled actin dynamics directly to the expression of specific genes, among them the extracellular matrix protein tenascin-C. As assembly lines for diverse signaling pathways, matrix adhesion contacts are now recognized as the major sites of crosstalk between mechanical and chemical stimuli, with important consequences for cell growth and differentiation.