Tibial dyschondroplasia (TD) is one of the most prevalent skeletal abnormalities in avian species, causing enormous economic losses and major animal welfare problems. Irregular cell differentiation of the chondrocytes that populate the growth plate has been hypothesized to be involved in the etiology of the disease. We evaluated the effect of incubation temperature at various stages of embryo development and bone formation on growth plate chondrocyte differentiation and the incidence of TD. Eggs were incubated either at a control temperature of 37.8 degrees C, or at 36.9 or 39 degrees C, each for 6 h/ d, during early (0 to 8 d) or late (10 to 18 d) embryo development. At 14 d of incubation and at hatch, tibias were collected and weighed, and their ash and calcium contents were determined. Growth plate chondrocyte differentiation was evaluated by alkaline phosphatase activity and collagen type 11 and osteopontin gene expression. In addition, the level of the heat-shock protein 90 (Hsp90) was evaluated by immunohistochemistry. The rest of the chicks were raised to 49 d and the incidence of TD was recorded. The incidence of TD increased only when the temperature was altered at the early stages of embryo development, and it was correlated with an increase in tibia ash but not with tibia weight or calcium content. Moreover, increased TD incidence was correlated with delayed chondrocyte differentiation. Early changes in incubation temperature caused an increase in the level of Hsp90 in articular and differentiated chondrocytes of the hypertrophic zone and in the numbers of distinct undifferentiated chondrocytes arranged in columns in the proliferative zone of the growth plate. In summary, the early stages of embryo development and bone formation are of utmost importantance for appropriate growth plate chondrocyte differentiation, and any temperature deviation will increase the subsequent incidence of TD. The increase in TD incidence is probably the result of delayed Hsp90-driven chondrocyte differentiation, supporting the hypothesis that TD is the result of abnormal chondrocyte differentiation.