Digital flexor tendons isolated from 17-18 day embryonic chickens were cultured intact, either on steel mesh grids, or in an apparatus designed to apply a mechanical load to the tissue. Tendons cultured without an applied load continued to synthesize protein and glycosaminoglycans throughout a 7-day period, but DNA synthesis decreased during this time. Increases in both protein and DNA synthesis were observed in tendons experimentally loaded for 48-72 h. Glycosaminoglycan production by tendons isolated from 17-day embryos was also increased in loaded tendons, sulfated GAG being increased more than hyaluronic acid. The same loading regime applied to tendons from 18-day embryos produced a smaller, yet significant increase in sulfated glycosaminoglycans but hyaluronate production was reduced. These investigations demonstrate that embryonic chicken tendons can be maintained in a viable state in organ culture and may provide a useful model for studies of the effects of mechanical forces on the synthetic capability and structure of connective tissue cells.