Mammalian eggs and embryos possess a major cytoskeletal network composed of large planar "sheets" distributed throughout the cytoplasm. Cytoskeletal sheets are found neither in mammalian somatic cells nor in eggs or embryos of non-mammals. In this study, we have investigated the structural composition of the sheets in eggs and embryos of the golden Syrian hamster by (1) analysis of replicas from quick-frozen, deep-etched specimens, (2) analysis of thick, resin-embedded specimens using an intermediate voltage electron microscope (IVEM), (3) laser diffraction of EM images, (4) differential extraction with detergents, and (5) immunocytochemistry. Our results indicate that each sheet is composed of two closely apposed arrays of 10-nm filaments. Each filament within an array is held in register with its neighbor by lateral cross-bridges and the two parallel arrays of filaments are interconnected by periodic cross-bridges about 20 nm in length. Laser diffraction of negatives from IVEM images indicates that each array is composed of fibers that form a square lattice, and the two arrays are positioned in register by cross-bridges forming a single sheet. This lattice forms the skeleton of the sheets which is covered with a tightly packed layer of particulate material. By incubation in media containing different ratios of mixed-micelle detergents, it is possible to remove components sequentially from the sheets and to extract the particulate material. Immunocytochemical localization demonstrates that the sheets bind antibodies to keratin, and to a small extent actin, but do not bind antibodies to vimentin or tubulin. Examination of sheets within embryos at the time of embryonic compaction demonstrates that the sheets begin to fragment and disassemble in regions of blastomeres where desmosomes form, but undergo no structural alterations in interior and basal surfaces of the blastomeres. In regions of blastomere-blastomere contact the sheets fragment and associate with granules resembling keratohyalin granules found in keratinocytes.