This paper describes some new approaches for understanding the permeability of teleost embryos. The dechorionated zebrafish (Brachydanio rerio) was used as a model for basic studies of water and cryoprotectant permeability. These embryos are composed of two compartments, a large yolk (surrounded by the yolk syncytial layer) and differentiating blastoderm cells. Cellular water was distributed unequally in each compartment. Measurements indicated that the total water in the embryo was 74%, while the total water in the yolk was 42%, and total water in the blastoderm was 82%. The internal isosmotic value for the zebrafish embryo is unknown. However, for one-compartment modeling studies of membrane permeability, the mean Lp (+/- SEM) values were 0.022 +/- 0.002 to 0.049 +/- 0.008 microns x min-1 atm-1 at 40 mOsm (assuming this was one possible internal isosmotic value for the entire embryo) and 0.040 +/- 0.004 to 0.1 +/- 0.017 microns x min-1 atm-1 at 300 mOsm (assuming this was another possible internal isosmotic value for the entire embryo). When three- and six-somite embryos were placed in 1.5 and 2.0 M cryoprotectants (dimethyl sulfoxide and propylene glycol), osmometric measurements of volume changes indicated no cryoprotectant permeation. However, similar measurements with methanol revealed a small volume decrease (ca. 8%) and recovery (ca. 5%) for six-somite embryos in a 2.0 M solution. Magnetic resonance (MR) images of the spatial distribution of three cryoprotectants (dimethyl sulfoxide, propylene glycol, and methanol) demonstrated that only methanol permeated the entire embryo within 15 min. The other cryoprotectants exhibited little or no permeation into the yolk over 2.5 h. The results from MR spectroscopy and cryoprotectant microinjections into the yolk suggested that the yolk syncytial layer plays the critical limiting role for cryoprotectant permeation throughout the embryo.