We investigated the role of the chondrocyte primary cilium in mechanotransduction events related to cartilage extracellular matrix synthesis. We generated conditionally immortalized wild-type (WT) and IFT88(orpk) (ORPK) mutant chondrocytes that lack primary cilia and assessed intracellular Ca(2+) signaling, extracellular matrix synthesis, and ATP release in response to physiologically relevant compressive strains in a 3-dimensional chondrocyte culture system. All conditions were compared to unloaded controls. We found that cilia were required for compression-induced Ca(2+) signaling mediated by ATP release, and an associated up-regulation of aggrecan mRNA and sulfated glycosaminosglycan secretion. However, chondrocyte cilia were not the initial mechanoreceptors, since both WT and ORPK cells showed mechanically induced ATP release. Rather, we found that primary cilia were required for downstream ATP reception, since ORPK cells did not elicit a Ca(2+) response to exogenous ATP even though WT and ORPK cells express similar levels of purine receptors. We suggest that purinergic Ca(2+) signaling may be regulated by polycystin-1, since ORPK cells only expressed the C-terminal tail. This is the first study to demonstrate that primary cilia are essential organelles for cartilage mechanotransduction, as well as identifying a novel role for primary cilia not previously reported in any other cell type, namely cilia-mediated control of ATP reception.