The relation between physical forces and the processes of bone regeneration and healing remains incompletely understood. Gaps in understanding of these processes stem in part from models that produce inadequate amounts of new bone for study. Bone created through the use of distraction osteogenesis provides an attractive substrate for the study of mechanical forces and their effects on bone formation because this technique produces large volumes of new bone in a controlled fashion. The optimal mechanical environment in which bone formation occurs clinically has not been fully determined. In laboratory studies, however, the mechanical environment can be manipulated, and resultant changes in bone formation can be measured. To investigate how changes in strain environment influence patterns of bone formation, a bilateral New Zealand White rabbit model of bilateral distraction osteogensis was implemented. When a stiffener was applied to the external distractor, computation analyses predicted a sevenfold to eightfold decrease in all strain measures. These reductions in gap strains appeared to induce significant decreases in bone volume fraction and mean trabecular thickness. When osteotomies were created at a 30 degrees angle to the bony axis to generate more shear within the gap tissue, changes in the distribution of gap strains and resultant new bone architecture were observed. Specific correlations between changes in tissue level strains and the pattern of bone regeneration were seen in both experiments. These results provide direct in vivo evidence that pluripotential gap tissues are sensitive to their physical surroundings. Mechanisms responsible for this sensitivity might include vascularity, stem cell supply, and scaffolding architecture. The process of bone formation in distraction osteogenesis appears to be related to bone formation processes associated with more common conditions. The distraction osteogenesis model described suggests a mechanism for bone formation that seems applicable to other more common processes associated with bone formation, including fracture healing and impaired fracture healing.