Because of the permeability of the chorion, sea bass embryos are exposed to seawater before hatching and hence require precocious osmoregulatory processes. Several studies of other species have demonstrated the existence of ion-transporting cells located on the yolk sac membrane of embryos. In these cells, called ionocytes, ion movements are controlled by a pool of transmembrane proteins. Among them, the Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase, an abundant driving enzyme, has been used to reveal the presence or absence of ionocytes. We have immunostained the Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase in sea-bass embryos and shown the presence of the first ionocytes on the yolk sac membrane at stage 12 somites and the occurrence of ionocytes at other sites before hatching. Ionocytes located on the first gill slits have been identified at stage 14 somites. Primitive enteric ionocytes have also been detected at stage 14 somites in the mid and posterior gut. The presence of these cells might be related to the early opening of the gut to perivitelline fluids, both anteriorly by the gill slits and posteriorly by the anus. The role of embryonic ionocytes in osmoregulation before hatching is discussed.