The purpose of this study was to characterize the effect of various shear conditions on endothelial cell intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i). Bovine aortic endothelial cells (BAEC) were loaded with Fluo-3 and exposed to flow in a parallel plate flow chamber designed for confocal microscopy. The flow medium was medium 199 (M-199), which was prepared with and without adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In the presence of ATP, initiation of flow at a shear stress of 2.5 dyn/cm2 evoked a strong, sustained elevation of [Ca2+]i that gradually returned to baseline levels over 10 to 15 min. By contrast, in the absence of ATP, initiation of flow at 2.5 dyn/cm2 produced only transient increases in [Ca2+]i in a small proportion of the cells. As shear rate was increased from 2.5 to 15 dyn/cm2 in this medium, both the relative fluorescence of the monolayer and the proportion of cells across the monolayer that displayed calcium transients increased in a dose-dependent fashion. In conclusion, the response of an endothelial cell monolayer to increasing levels of shear is not only to increase [Ca2+]i within individual cells, but to increase the duration of response and the number of cells responding at the onset of shear. This recruitment of larger numbers of cells at higher levels of shear may represent a novel signaling mechanism within the endothelium.