The unique embryotoxic properties of D-mannose have been used as the basis for a new technique to secure precise temporal correlations between metabolic perturbations during organogenesis and subsequent dysmorphogenesis. Conscious, pregnant rats were infused with D-mannose or equimolar amounts of D-glucose by "square wave" delivery during the interval in which the neural plate is established and early fusion of neural folds takes place, that is, days 9.5-10.0 of gestation. Infusions of mannose to maternal plasma levels of 150-200 mg/dl did not elicit any toxicity in the mothers: motor activity, eating behavior, and serum components (electrolytes, osmolality, bilirubin) did not differ in glucose- vis-à-vis mannose-infused dams. Embryos were excised by hysterotomy on day 11.6 for evaluation of development. Examination with a dissecting microscope did not disclose developmental abnormalities in any of the 136 embryos from glucose-infused mothers or in 62 additional embryos from mothers that had not received any infusions. By contrast, dysmorphic changes were seen in 17 of 191 embryos (8.9%) from mannose-infused mothers. 14 of the 17 had abnormal brain or neural tube development with incomplete neural tube closure in 9 instances. Abnormal axial rotation was present in 8 of the 191 embryos (4.2%) and lesions of the heart or optic vesicles were seen in 4 (2.1%) and 3 (1.6%), respectively. Embryos from mannose-infused mothers displayed significant retardations in somite number, crown-rump length, and total protein and DNA content. These stigmata of growth retardation were more marked in the 17 dysmorphic embryos. The experiments indicate that D-mannose may be employed in model systems with rodents for precisely timed interruptions of organogenesis in vivo. Initial applications are consistent with our earlier suggestion that multiple dysmorphic changes may supervene after interference with communally observed metabolic dependencies during organogenesis. The studies do not identify the vulnerable site(s) within the conceptus (e.g., investing membranes, embryos, or both). However, the findings suggest that dysmorphic events are manifest most markedly in a general setting of embryo growth retardation.