Intracellular pH was measured in normal 8-cell stage mouse embryos and in embryos from a cross between DDK females and C3H males. DDK/C3H embryos display the DDK syndrome and spontaneously begin to decompact toward the late 16-cell stage. Ultimately, 90% fail to form blastocysts. Normal embryos have a resting intracellular pH close to neutrality. In DDK/C3H embryos a substantial proportion (46%) has an intracellular pH below 6.7. An equivalent proportion of DDK/C3H embryos was found previously to show slow communication through gap junctions at the 8-cell stage. This is probably a consequence of low intracellular pH. In normal embryos the weak acid, butyric acid, decreased intracellular pH and slowed the transfer of Lucifer Yellow through gap junctions. Normal embryos treated with butyrate for between 1 and 6 hr beginning at the 8-cell stage and cultured for 24 hr, reproduced the DDK/C3H phenotype. After 48 hr some butyrate treated embryos recovered, while others remained as decompacted morulae. Treatment of control and DDK/C3H 8-cell stage embryos with dibutyryl cyclic AMP or forskolin, which will increase intracellular cyclic AMP, speeded gap junctional communication. Forskolin treatment prevented expression of the DDK syndrome in DDK/C3H embryos, although the rescue was transient and the syndrome returned when forskolin was removed. The finding that the DDK syndrome is manifested as low intracellular pH may provide clues to the molecular basis of the defect.