There is growing evidence that cell shape regulates both proliferation and differentiated gene expression in a variety of cell types. We have explored the relationship between the morphology of articular chondrocytes in culture and the amount and type of proteoglycan they synthesize, using cytochalasin D to induce reversible cell rounding. When chondrocytes were prevented from spreading or when spread cells were induced to round up, 35SO4 incorporation into proteoglycan was stimulated. Incorporation into the cell layer was stimulated more than into the medium. When the cells were allowed to respread by removing cytochalasin D, proteoglycan synthesis returned to control levels. Cytochalasin D-induced stimulation of 35SO4 incorporation reflected an increase in core protein synthesis rather than lengthening of glycosaminoglycan chains, because [3H]serine incorporation into core protein was also stimulated. The observed stimulation of proteoglycan synthesis was not due to an overall stimulation of protein synthesis, to inhibition of DNA synthesis, or to accumulation of cells in one phase of the cell cycle. Cytochalasin D-treatment of cells in suspension caused no further stimulation of 35SO4 incorporation, suggesting that the observed effects were due to cell rounding rather than exposure to cytochalasin D per se; nevertheless, we cannot completely rule out other, nonspecific, effects of the drug. Fibroblasts and chondrocytes that had been passaged to stimulate dedifferentiation did not incorporate more 35SO4 when treated with cytochalasin D, suggesting that increased proteoglycan synthesis in response to rounding may itself be a differentiated property of chondrocytes.