In this investigation, Triton X-100 extraction was utilized to examine the cytoskeleton of ascidian eggs and embryos. The cytoskeleton contained little carbohydrate or lipid and only about 20-25% of the total cellular protein and RNA. It was enriched in polypeptides of molecular weight (Mr)54, 48, and 43 x 10(3) Mr polypeptide was identified as actin based on its Mr, isoelectric point, and affinity for DNase I. Electron microscopy of the detergent-extracted eggs showed that they contained cytoskeletal domains corresponding to colored cytoplasmic regions of specific morphogenetic fate in the living egg. A yellow crescent cytoskeletal domain in the myoplasm was examined and shown to consist of a plasma membrane lamina (PML) and a deeper lattice of filaments which appeared to connect the yellow crescent pigment granules to the PML. The PML probably consists of integral membrane proteins stabilized by an underlying network of actin filaments since NBD-phallacidin stained this area of the egg cortex and the PML was extracted from the cytoskeleton by DNase I treatment. The yellow crescent cytoskeletal domain was found throughout the cortex of the unfertilized egg. During ooplasmic segregation it progressively receded into the vegetal hemisphere and was subsequently partitioned to the presumptive muscle and mesenchyme cells of the 32-cell embryo. It is suggested that contraction of the actin network in the yellow crescent cytoskeletal domain is the motive force for ooplasmic segregation. This structure may also serve as a framework for the positioning of morphogenetic determinants involved in muscle cell development.