Lungs of day-18 fetal mice with hereditary chondrodysplasia (cho) were examined histologically and biochemically for pulmonary hypoplasia. Compared with normal littermate controls, the mutant's lungs were smaller by 37 (wet weight) and 22% (dry weight). Total DNA and protein per whole lung were decreased by 13 and 19%, respectively. The significantly smaller-than-normal terminal sacs observed in histological sections of the mutant's lungs corresponded with the greater difference (37%) in lung wet weight. The developmental mechanism for this disorder was further explored by examining the volumes of thoracic cavity and amniotic fluid. the volume of the thoracic cavity of newborn mutants was less than half that of controls, suggesting that the pathogenetic mechanism for the hypoplastic lungs in chondrodysplastic mice includes thoracic dystrophy. Measurement of the amniotic fluid volume revealed polyhydramnios in the mutant, thereby ruling out oligohydramnios as a mechanism. The relevance of this study to human pulmonary hypoplasia in short-limb chondrodystrophy is discussed.