Gap junctional communication has been implicated in embryonic development and pattern formation. The gap junction protein, alpha 1 connexin (Cx43) is expressed in dynamic and spatially restricted patterns in the developing chick embryo and its expression correlates with many specific developmental events. High levels of expression are found in regions of budding, which leads to shaping and appears to be a necessary prelude for tissue fusions. In order to investigate the role of alpha 1 connexin in these morphogenetic events, we developed a novel method of applying unmodified antisense deoxyoligonucleotides (ODNs) to chick embryos. The use of pluronic gel to deliver antisense ODNs has allowed us to regulate the expression of alpha 1 connexin protein, both spatially and temporally. This "knockdown" results in some striking developmental defects that mimic some common congenital abnormalities, such as spina bifida, anencephaly, myeloschisis, limb malformation, cleft palate, failure of hematopoiesis, and cardiovascular deformity. The results imply a major role for alpha 1 connexin communication in the integration of signaling required for pattern formation during embryonic development. This novel antisense technique may also be widely applicable.