The aortic valve (AV) leaflet contains a heterogeneous interstitial cell population composed predominantly of myofibroblasts, which contain both fibroblast and smooth muscle cell characteristics. The focus of the present study was to examine aortic valve interstitial cell (AVIC) contractile behavior within the intact leaflet tissue. Circumferential strips of porcine AV leaflets were mechanically tested under flexure, with the AVIC maintained in the normal, contracted, and contraction-inhibited states. Leaflets were flexed both with (WC) and against (AC) the natural leaflet curvature, both before and after the addition of 90 mM KCl to elicit cellular contraction. In addition, a natural basal tonus was also demonstrated by treating the leaflets with 10 microM thapsigargin to completely inhibit AVIC contraction. Results revealed a 48% increase in leaflet stiffness with AVIC contraction (from 703 to 1040 kPa, respectively) when bent in the AC direction (p=0.004), while the WC direction resulted only in 5% increase (from 491 to 516.5 kPa, respectively--not significant) in leaflet stiffness in the active state. Also, the loss of basal tonus of the AVIC population with thapsigargin treatment resulted in 76% (AC, p=0.001) and 54% (WC, p=0.036) decreases in leaflet stiffness at 5 mM KCl levels, while preventing contraction with the addition of 90 mM KCl as expected. We speculate that the observed layer dependent effects of AVIC contraction are primarily due to varying ECM mechanical properties in the ventricularis and fibrosa layers. Moreover, while we have demonstrated that AVIC contractile ability is a significant contributor to AV leaflet bending stiffness, it most likely serves a role in maintaining AV leaflet tissue homeostasis that has yet to be elucidated.