Abstract The influence of dietary ascorbic acid (AA) on growth and morphogenesis during the larval development of European sea bass ( Dicentrarchus labrax) was evaluated until 45 days post hatching. Diets incorporated 0, 5, 15, 30, 50 or 400 mg AA per kg diet to give AA-0, AA-5, AA-15, AA-30, AA-50 and AA-400 dietary treatments, respectively. Dietary AA levels lower than 15 mg/kg reduced larval growth and survival was affected in specimens fed diets devoid of AA. Globally, disruption of the expression of genes involved in AA and calcium absorption in the intestine (SVCT-1, TRPV-6), skeletogenesis (BMP-4, IGF-1, RARγ) and bone mineralization (VDRβ, osteocalcin) were observed in groups fed doses lower and higher than 50 mg AA/kg diet. Such disturbances detected at molecular level were associated with disruptions of the ossification process and the appearance of skeletal abnormalities.