Members of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family and growth and differentiation factor 5 (GDF-5) have been implicated in joint specification, but their roles in subsequent cavity formation are not defined. Cavity formation (cavitation) depends upon limb movement in embryonic chicks and factors involved in joint formation are often identified by their expression at the joint-line. We have sought support for the roles of FGF-2, FGF-4, and GDF-5 in cavitation by defining expression patterns, immunohistochemically, during joint formation and establishing whether these are modified by in ovo immobilisation. We found that FGF-2 exhibited low level nuclear expression in chondrocytes and fibrocartilage cells close to presumptive joints, but showed significantly higher expression levels in cells at, and directly bordering, the forming joint cavity. This high-level joint line FGF-2 expression was selectively diminished in immobilised limbs. In contrast, we show that FGF-4 does not exhibit differential joint-line expression and was unaffected by immobilisation. GDF-5 protein also failed to show joint-line selective labelling, and although immobilisation induced a cartilaginous fusion across presumptive joints, it did not affect cellular GDF-5 expression patterns. Examining changes in GDF-5 expression in response to a direct mechanical strain stimulus in primary embryonic chick articular surface (AS) cells in vitro discloses only small mechanically-induced reductions in GDF-5 expression, suggesting that GDF-5 does not exert a direct positive contribution to the mechano-dependent joint cavitation process. This notion was supported by retroviral overexpression of UDPGD, a characteristic factor involved in hyaluronan (HA) accumulation at presumptive joint lines, which was also found to produce small decreases in AS cell GDF-5 expression. These findings support a direct mechano-dependent role for FGF-2, but not FGF-4, in the cavitation process and indicate that GDF-5 is likely to influence chondrogenesis positively without contributing directly to joint cavity formation. Developmental Dynamics 235:826–834, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.