Pinocytic capture of 125I-labelled polyvinylpyrrolidone and of formaldehyde-denatured 125I-labelled bovine serum albumin by 17.5-day rat visceral yolk sacs incubated in vitro was rapidly and strongly inhibited by low concentrations (0.01 and 0.05%, v/v) of ethanol. The induced inhibition of pinocytosis was readily reversible, but a marked lag was observed before ethanol-exposed tissue regained its full proteolytic capacity towards the exogenous protein. These observations suggest that the acute administration of ethanol to a pregnant rat may give rise to concentrations of ethanol in the maternal blood and/or uterine fluid that induce dysfunction of the yolk sac. In late gestation such inhibition of yolk-sac function may interfere with the transfer of passive immunity across the yolk sac. If similar dysfunction is induced earlier in gestation, in the period before the chorioallantoic placenta is functional, this could cause a transient period of inhibition of histiotrophic nutrition that may be important to the pathogenic mechanism of action of ethanol as a teratogen.