Embryos of certain inbred mouse strains, and their F1 hybrids, are able to develop from the 1-cell to blastocyst stage in simple chemically defined media containing lactate (L), pyruvate (P) and glucose (G). The individual roles of these substrates in supporting complete preimplantation development in vitro was examined with 1-cell F2 embryos from B6CBF1 hybrid mice. Embryos collected between 26 and 27 h post hCG were cultured in medium containing L, P, LP or LPG. After 50 h in culture, the proportions developing to the morula stage were 1%, 83%, 94% and 100%, respectively. In combination, lactate and pyruvate appeared to act synergistically and both the rate and level of development to the morula stage were unaffected by the absence of glucose. After a further 46 h in culture, only the embryos grown in the presence of glucose developed into blastocysts. In LP medium, embryos arrested at the compacted morula stage late on day 3 of development. As culture continued in the absence of glucose, embryos decompacted (approximately 82 h post hCG) and subsequently degenerated. Exposure to medium containing glucose for the first, second or third 24 h period in culture was sufficient to support the morula-to-blastocyst transition. Glucose still supported this transition when embryos were transferred to LPG medium 3 h after the completion of compaction (76 h post hCG), but was ineffective 6 h later (82 h post hCG) once decompaction had commenced. We conclude that lactate and pyruvate together are able to support normal development of 1-cell F2 embryos to the morula stage in vitro, but that glucose is an essential component of the culture medium for development to the blastocyst stage.