We study exocytosis in the planar isolated cortex of the egg of the sea urchin Lytechinus pictus. Solutions bathing the exocytotic apparatus need not contain appreciable amounts of ions: fusion follows addition of submicromolar calcium to solutions containing only nonelectrolyte. We examine the effects of altering the granule membrane permeability to small molecules with ionophores and digitonin. Introducing holes in the secretory granule membrane to the extent of allowing free passage of small molecules does not cause secretion in vitro. We add the amphipathic compound digitonin at 12 to 15 microM concentrations and demonstrate that the granule membrane can become permeable to lucifer yellow, yet that granules remain intact. Granules still undergo exocytosis after digitonin treatment at such concentrations upon subsequent addition of calcium. Higher concentrations of digitonin lead to granule content swelling and vesicle bursting. We conclude that cortical granule hydration during exocytosis is not mediated by small ionic channels.