This report describes a study in which in vitro fertilization methods were used to expose medaka (Oryzias latipes) eggs to cadmium (Cd(2+)). This approach was applied to address the differential sensitivity and cumulative potential of Cd(2+) when exposure was initiated early (before fertilization and water hardening of the chorion) versus later during embryo development (i.e., well after the chorion has undergone water hardening). Following range finding exposures (2.5, 10, 20, 40 or 80 mg/l) under artificially controlled experimental procedures, results from hatching success and embryo malformations showed the earlier exposure interval more sensitive than the assay involving only the embryonated egg. Subsequent accumulation studies have shown that the exposure initiated before fertilization apparently led to more Cd(2+) deposition in the chorion compared to the exposure during embryonated stages of the eggs. Similarly, values for total Cd(2+) indicated higher concentrations in those eggs exposed prior to--and during--water hardening. Results suggest an alteration of the properties of the zona radiata in the early-stage eggs, making it more permeable to the potential exit or entrance of waterborne agents even after water hardening. Ongoing studies must now address the development of more realistic exposure conditions of the gametes by using incubation media with osmolarities similar to surface waters, and by shortening duration for gamete exposure. Also, sensitive methods to localize Cd(2+) and to delineate the transfer from the chorion to the embryo are needed.