Arterial smooth muscle cells from rabbit aortic media in primary culture and subculture were grown on hydrophilized and collagen-coated silicone membranes which were then subjected to cyclic and directional stretches and relaxations at a frequency of 60 times/min. The membranes were stretched with various amplitudes ranging from 2% to 20%. Smooth muscle cells on unstretched membranes in the same incubation chamber served as controls. In long-term experiments the stretching and relaxing of the membranes was continued for several days. While the smooth muscle cells grown on unstretched membranes remained in random orientation in all experiments, the cells which underwent mechanical stimulation showed a high degree of orientation. The angle of cell orientation varied in direct relation to the stretching amplitude and became steeper in correlation to the intensity of the mechanical stimulus. The angle of cell orientation was reversible, as preoriented cells changed their orientation when another stretching amplitude was applied. To study the role of cytoskeleton in the process of cell orientation, we examined the behaviour of the intracellular actin filament system. In short-term experiments the smooth muscle cells were exposed for 3 to 12 h to cyclic and directional stretches and relaxations with an amplitude of 10%. We observed a rearrangement of the intracellular actin filament system prior to the orientation of the whole cell bodies. The present study provides evidence that stretching the artery wall by blood pulsation may result in an orientation response of the intracellular actin cytoskeleton and in the orientation of the smooth muscle cells within the media of artery walls.