The study examines development of rat, mouse, and human embryonic palates in submerged, serum-free organ culture. The concentration-response profiles for retinoic acid (RA), triamcinolone (TRI), hydrocortisone (HC), dexamethasone (DEX), and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) were examined and the mechanisms of clefting in vitro were compared to observed in vivo responses. The present study demonstrates that serum-free organ culture supports development of mouse, rat, and human palatal explants. The present study also demonstrates the capacity of this organ culture system to model palatogenesis for several species, and to distinguish between various mechanisms of clefting as presented through selected model compounds. This model should be useful for exploring mechanisms of activity at a cellular and molecular level.