The vessel wall is constantly subjected to, and affected by, the stresses resulting from the hemodynamic stimuli of transmural pressure and flow. At the interface between blood and the vessel wall, the endothelial cell plays a crucial role in controlling vessel structure and function in response to changes in hemodynamic conditions. Using bovine aortic endothelium monolayers, we show that fluid shear stress causes simultaneous differential regulation of endothelial-derived products. We also report that the downregulation of endothelin-1 mRNA by flow is a reversible process, and through the use of uncharged dextran supplementation demonstrate it to be shear stress- rather than shear rate-dependent. Recent work on the effect of fluid shear stress on endothelial cell gene expression of a number of potent endothelial products is reviewed, including vasoactive substances, autocrine and paracrine growth factors, thrombosis/fibrinolysis modulators, chemotactic factors, surface receptors and immediate-early genes. The encountered patterns of gene expression responses are classified into three categories: a transient increase with return to baseline (type I), a sustained increase (type II) and a biphasic response consisting of an early transient increase of varying extent followed by a pronounced and sustained decrease (type III). The importance of the dynamic character of the flow stimulus and the magnitude dependence of the response are presented. Potential molecular mechanisms of shear-induced gene regulation, including putative shear stress response elements (SSRE), are discussed. These results suggest exquisite modulation of endothelial cell phenotype by local fluid shear stress and may offer insight into the mechanism of flow-dependent vascular remodeling and the observed propensity of atherosclerosis formation around bifurcations and areas of low shear stress.