Vascular endothelial cells are linked by gap junctions, which facilitate the propagation of electrical and chemical signals along the vessel wall. The aim of this study was to determine the distribution and identity of the gap junction structural proteins (connexins) expressed by endothelial cells in situ. Connexin expression in different regions of the rat aortic endothelium was analyzed with the use of indirect immunofluorescence microscopy and Western blotting. Connexin40 and connexin37 were present in most, if not all, of the thoracic and abdominal aortic endothelia in the form of maculae at cell-cell appositions. In contrast, connexin43 was undetectable in most endothelia but extremely abundant in small numbers of cells localized at the downstream edge of the ostia of branching vessels and at flow dividers, regions that experience turbulent shear stress from disturbed blood flow. To examine the relationship of shear stress and connexin43 expression, localized stress was induced by surgical coarctation of the aorta, which was sufficient to cause striking local upregulation of connexin43 within 8 days. Thus, increases in connexin43 levels are an endothelial response to mechanical stress.