Rapid re-endothelialization following balloon angioplasty can reduce restenosis by inhibiting smooth muscle cell migration and proliferation. However, formation of a neointima following angioplasty can be inhibited due to endothelial cell dysfunction and denudation. The purpose of this study was to evaluate mechanical tensile stress as a cause of endothelial cell dysfunction. The Flexercell strain unit was utilized to generate both short-term cyclic and static tensile strain on cultured bovine aortic endothelial cells (BAECs). Before analysis of this loading on BAECs, strain behaviour of the Flexercell system and DNA assay conditions were optimized. This paper demonstrates that, when compared with unloaded controls, 4-h cyclic loading at 4 per cent elongation and 0.1 Hz, and static loading at 4 per cent elongation cause a 44 and 70 per cent decrease in DNA synthesis respectively. In a companion paper, it is demonstrated that low DNA synthesis levels in mechanically loaded cells can be increased by incubation with Ap4A and/or NO donors.