The role of reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated cell signal transduction pathways emanating from engineered cell substrates remains unclear. To elucidate the role, polymers derived from the amino acid L-tyrosine were used as synthetic matrix substrates. Variations in their chemical properties were created by co-polymerizing hydrophobic L-tyrosine derivatives with uncharged hydrophilic poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG, Mw = 1,000 Da), and negatively charged desaminotyrosyl-tyrosine (DT). These substrates were characterized for their intrinsic ability to generate ROS, as well as their ability to elicit Saos-2 cell responses in terms of intracellular ROS production, actin remodeling, and apoptosis. PEG-containing substrates induced both exogenous and intracellular ROS production, whereas the charged substrates reduced production of both types, indicating a coupling of exogenous ROS generation and intracellular ROS production. Furthermore, PEG-mediated ROS induction caused nuclear translocation of glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase and an increase in caspase-3 activity, confirming a link with apoptosis. PEG-rich pro-oxidant substrates caused cytoskeletal actin remodeling through beta-actin cleavage by caspase-3 into fractins. The fractins co-localized to the mitochondria and reduced the mitochondrial membrane potential. The remnant cytosolic beta-actin was polymerized and condensed, events consistent with apoptotic cell shrinkage. The cytoskeletal remodeling was integral to the further augmentation of intracellular ROS production. Conversely, the anti-oxidant DT-containing charged substrates suppressed the entire cascade of apoptotic progression. We demonstrate that ROS activity serves an important role in "outside-in" signaling for cells grown on substrates: the ROS activity couples exogenous stress, driven by substrate composition, to changes in intracellular signaling. This signaling causes cell apoptosis, which is mediated by actin remodeling.