At fertilization in sea urchin, the free radical nitric oxide (NO) has recently been suggested to cause the intracellular Ca(2+) rise responsible for egg activation. The authors suggested that NO could be a universal activator of eggs and the present study was set up to test this hypothesis. Intracellular NO and Ca(2+) levels were monitored simultaneously in eggs of the mouse or the urochordate ascidian Ascidiella aspersa. Eggs were either fertilized or sperm extracts microinjected. Sperm-induced Ca(2+) rises were not associated with any global, or local, change in intracellular NO, although we were able to detect NO produced by the addition of a NO donor. Furthermore, the NO synthase inhibitor N(G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester had no effect on sperm-induced Ca(2+) release but did block completely ionomycin-induced NO synthase activation. Therefore, we suggest that the current data provide evidence that NO has no role in the fertilization of these two chordate eggs.