Mechanical force applied to bone produces two localized mechanical signals on the cell: deformation of the extracellular matrix (substrate strain) and extracellular fluid flow. To study the effects of these stimuli on osteoblasts, MC3T3-E1 cells were grown on type I collagen-coated plastic plates and subjected to four-point bending. This technique produces uniform levels of physiological strain and fluid forces on the cells. Each of these parameters can be varied independently. Osteopontin (OPN) mRNA expression was used to assess the anabolic response of MC3T3-E1 cells. When fluid forces were low, neither strain magnitude nor strain rate was correlated with OPN expression. However, higher-magnitude fluid forces significantly increased OPN message levels independently of the strain magnitude or rate. These data indicate that fluid forces, and not mechanical stretch, influence OPN expression in osteoblasts and suggest that fluid forces induced by extracellular fluid flow within the bone matrix may play an important role in bone formation in response to mechanical loading.