A review of current knowledge of the unusual structure and several functions of the yolk-sac membranes of common laboratory rodents, viz., rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils, enables a better assessment of the significance of this maternofetal exchange system in the experimental production of congenital anomalies. The anatomy of both visceral and parietal walls of the rodent yolk-sac placenta--specifically the anatomical relationships of each wall with maternal and with other fetal tissues--depends on the mode of origin and subsequent development of the yolk sac in these several species. Accordingly, the developmental biology of the rodent yolk sac is described. Since both fine structure and anatomical relationships also determine in large measure the functioning of the membrane as a whole in the absorption of selected materials either for intracellular digestion or for cellular translocation and transport to the developing embryo, the anatomy of the yolk sac is considered in detail. Similarly, since available evidence strongly suggests that teratogenic agents induce perturbations in the cellular mechanisms that control these several functions of the yolk-sac placental system in the production of birth defects, additionally an account is given of the cell biology of the membrane, i.e., endocytosis and targeting/trafficking of materials either for digestion within the epithelium at the maternal surface of the visceral yolk sac or for translocation across the yolk-sac membrane as a whole.