Mechanical stresses were applied directly to cell surface receptors with a magnetic twisting device. The extracellular matrix receptor, integrin beta 1, induced focal adhesion formation and supported a force-dependent stiffening response, whereas nonadhesion receptors did not. The cytoskeletal stiffness (ratio of stress to strain) increased in direct proportion to the applied stress and required intact microtubules and intermediate filaments as well as microfilaments. Tensegrity models that incorporate mechanically interdependent struts and strings that reorient globally in response to a localized stress mimicked this response. These results suggest that integrins act as mechanoreceptors and transmit mechanical signals to the cytoskeleton. Mechanotransduction, in turn, may be mediated simultaneously at multiple locations inside the cell through force-induced rearrangements within a tensionally integrated cytoskeleton.