An X-ray irradiation method was employed to analyse the role of cell proliferation in vitro in the cleft formation of mouse embryonic submandibular epithelium at early stages. When the mid 12-day gland was exposed to 200 rad of X-rays, the growth was severely retarded. In contrast, late 12-day and early 13-day glands grew apparently in a normal fashion, as did the control gland, for up to 40 h. In either case, they formed shallow clefts within 10 h of culture. With 1000 rad irradiation, the mid 12-day gland did not grow at all, but formed clefts within 20 h of culture followed by a rapid degeneration. Under the same conditions, the growth of the late 12-day gland, which was at the stage just before branching, was retarded until 10 h of culture, followed by a slight increase in epithelial size, but cleft formation was also observed within 6–10 h, as in the control gland. When exposed to a dose of 1000 rad of X-rays, the early 13-day and the late 12-day glands exhibited similar radiosensitivity; the initial narrow clefts in the epithelium deepened and new clefts began to form within 6–10 h of culture. [3H]thymidine incorporation studies revealed that a dose of 1000 rad reduced DNA synthesis of mid and late 12-day glands by 72 and 65%, respectively. Histological examination of X-irradiated late 12-day gland showed that mitotic figures were rarely seen in the epithelium at 6 h of culture. Aphidicolin, a specific inhibitor of DNA synthesis, could not halt the cleft formation of the late 12-day gland. In this experiment 89% of DNA synthesis was inhibited. Treatment of an X-ray irradiated late 12-day gland with aphidicolin blocked 92% of the DNA synthesis, but did not prevent cleft formation taking place. These results indicate that neither cell division nor DNA synthesis, is required for the initiation process of the cleft formation of the mouse embryonic submandibular epithelium at early morphogenetic stages in vitro.