Intercellular Ca2+ signalling in primary cultures of articular chondrocytes was investigated with digital fluorescence video imaging. Mechanical stimulation of a single cell induced a wave of increased Ca2+ that was communicated to surrounding cells. Intercellular Ca2+ spreading was inhibited by 18alpha-glycyrrhetinic acid, demonstrating the involvement of gap junctions in signal propagation. In the absence of extracellular Ca2+ mechanical stimulation failed to induce Ca2+ responses and communicated Ca2+ waves. Under these conditions Ca2+ microinjection induced intercellular waves involving the cells immediately surrounding the stimulated one. Mechanical stress induced Ca2+ influx in the stimulated, but not in the adjacent cells, as assessed by the Mn2+ quenching technique. Cell treatment with thapsigargin failed to block mechanically induced signal propagation, but significantly reduced the number of cells involved in the communicated Ca2+ wave. Similar results were obtained with the phospholipase C inhibitor U73122, which is known to prevent InsP3 generation. These results provide evidence that mechanical stimulation induces a cytosolic Ca2+ increase that may permeate gap junctions, thus acting as an intercellular messenger mediating cell-to-cell communication in articular chondrocytes.