The isolation of the cortex of the sea urchin blastomere by detergent lysis was explored with the aim of analyzing components important in the structure and function of the cortical cytoskeleton, and their relationship to such phenomena as contraction. Buffered EGTA medium supplemented with isotonic glycerol and with magnesium, at a level close to the reported internal cellular concentration, yields stable cytoskeletal cortices that retain their spherical shape. Cortices prepared this way contain actin, myosin, fascin and spectrin, components normally associated with the cortical cytoskeleton in a similar distribution to that in intact zygotes. They retain the organized cortical filamentous structure, including the actin-fascin bundles that form cores of microvilli. ATP and NaCl caused changes in cortical shape, described as either contraction or expansion, respectively. Spectrin, but not myosin, was partially extracted by NaCl, resulting in expansion of the cortex that suggests a role for spectrin in maintenance of cortical structure. ATP (but not ADP nor ATP gamma S), which caused the partial removal of myosin and spectrin, led to the contraction of the cortex, consistent with a role for myosin in cortical tension. In cortices isolated from dividing eggs, the zygotes retained their cleavage furrows and ATP induced continuation of furrow progression. This preparation appears to be a useful in vitro model for cytokinesis.