Uvomorulin (E-cadherin) is the major cell adhesion molecule responsible for intercellular adhesion in early mouse embryos. In contrast to other cell adhesion molecules, it is not detectable on the cell surface until around 6 h after fertilisation or parthenogenetic activation, at the time when pronuclear formation occurs (Clayton, L., Stinchcombe, S.V. and Johnson, M.H., Zygote 1, 333–44, 1993). In order to investigate this developmental control of surface expression of uvomorulin, we examined the effects of inhibitors of various cellular processes on the appearance of uvomorulin at the oocyte surface, as assessed immunocytochemically. Inhibitors of cytoskeletal assembly (cytochalasin D and nocodazole), protein synthesis (puromycin and anisomycin), and DNA synthesis (aphidicolin) had no effect on surface expression. Brefeldin A, which inhibits intracellular transport and secretion, did prevent surface expression, but monensin did not. The effects of brefeldin were reversible; following 8 h of treatment, recovery of surface expression after removal of brefeldin began within 2 h. The time-course of surface expression post-activation suggested a link with pronuclear formation. However, when pronuclear formation was advanced experimentally using 6-dimethylaminopurine(DMAP), concomitant advancement of surface uvomorulin was not observed. Similarly, surface expression of uvomorulin did not accompany puromycin-induced pronuclear formation in maturing meiotic metaphase 1 (MI) oocytes in vitro. Thus, surface uvomorulin expression does not appear to be linked simply to pronuclear formation. Proteolytic processing of both newly synthesised and total uvomorulin to generate mature molecule from precursor increased within 30 min to 1 h after activation, and also occurred in the continued presence of brefeldin, suggesting that uvomorulin processing appears to be controlled independently of its suface expression.