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Fluid shear stress modulates vascular function and structure by stimulating mechanosensitive endothelial cell signal events. Cell adhesion, mediated by integrin-matrix interactions, also regulates intracellular signaling by mechanosensitive events. To gain insight into the role of integrin-matrix interactions, we compared tyrosine phosphorylation and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK1/2) activation in adhesion- and shear stress-stimulated human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC). Adhesion of HUVEC to fibronectin, but not to poly-L-lysine, rapidly activated ERK1/2. Fluid shear stress (12 dyn/cm2) enhanced ERK1/2 activation stimulated by adhesion, suggesting the presence of a separate pathway. Two differences in signal transduction were identified: focal adhesion kinase phosphorylation was increased rapidly by adhesion but not by shear stress; and ERK1/2 activation in response to adhesion was inhibited to a significantly greater extent when actin filaments were disrupted by cytochalasin D. Two similarities in activation of ERK1/2 were observed: protein kinase C (PKC) activity was necessary as shown by complete inhibition when PKC was downregulated; and an herbimycin-sensitive (genistein- and tyrphostin-insensitive) tyrosine kinase was required. c-Src was identified as a candidate tyrosine kinase as it was activated by both shear stress and adhesion. These findings suggest that adhesion and shear stress activate ERK1/2 via a shared pathway that involves an herbimycin-sensitive tyrosine kinase and PKC. In addition, shear stress activates ERK1/2 through another pathway that is partially independent of cytoskeletal integrity.