Mammalian blastocyst formation is dependent on establishment of trophectoderm (TE) ion and fluid transport mechanisms. We have examined the expression and function of aquaporin (AQP) water channels during murine preimplantation development. AQP 3, 8, and 9 proteins demonstrated cell margin-associated staining starting at the 8-cell (AQP 9) or compacted morula (AQP 3 and 8) stages. In blastocysts, AQP 3 and 8 were detected in the basolateral membrane domains of the trophectoderm, while AQP3 was also observed in cell margins of all inner cell mass (ICM) cells. In contrast, AQP 9 was predominantly observed within the apical membrane domains of the TE. Murine blastocysts exposed to hyperosmotic culture media (1800 mOsm; 10% glycerol) demonstrated a rapid volume decrease followed by recovery to approximately 80% of initial volume over 5 min. Treatment of blastocysts with p-chloromercuriphenylsulfonic acid (pCMPS, > or =100 microM) for 5 min significantly impaired (P < 0.05) volume recovery, indicating the involvement of AQPs in fluid transport across the TE. Blastocysts exposure to an 1800-mOsm sucrose/KSOMaa solution did not demonstrate volume recovery as observed following treatment with glycerol containing medium, indicating glycerol permeability via AQPs 3 and 9. These findings support the hypothesis that aquaporins mediate trans-trophectodermal water movements during cavitation.