Gestation day (GD) 10 rat embryos (10-12 somites) were exposed in vitro for 10 to 25 minutes at 42 or 43 degrees C and evaluated 24 hrs later for alterations in growth and specific morphological parameters, using a modified Brown-Fabro (Brown and Fabro: Teratology, 24:65-78, '81) scoring system that allowed evaluation of development relative to gestational age. At 42 degrees C, crown-rump length appeared to be particularly sensitive, responding to only 10 mins exposure. A 15-min exposure resulted in decreased total protein, somite number and morphological score. No system was uniquely sensitive, since all parameters demonstrated some degree of response. Rather, systems affected were those that would be developing most rapidly at this time in gestation. At 43 degrees C, all of the parameters measured were affected by a 10-min exposure. These results demonstrate alterations in vitro after much shorter exposure periods than previously reported on GD10, which may be due, in part, to the use of a modified scoring system that permitted the evaluation of graded individual end point changes relative to gestational age. The response patterns demonstrated a clear temperature- and exposure duration-dependency, with a shift from a more shallow duration-response curve to a more dramatic inhibition of development as temperature increased from 42 degrees C to 43 degrees C.