7-Diethylamino-4-methylcoumarin (DEMC) is a fluorescent whitening agent (FWAs). There have been some studies on DEMC's protective effects against biological activity but there are few papers about the in vivo toxicity of DEMC. In this study, we used wild-type zebrafish embryos 3 days post fertilization (dpf). Test solutions with DEMC concentrations were negative control (without vehicle), 0 (with vehicle, 0.01% v/v ethanol), 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 1.0, 1.25, 1.5 and 2 ppm. Embryos and larvae were counted for survival rate and hatching rate. Heart rates were also counted at 2.5 and 3.0 dpf. At 3.0 dpf, quantitative RT-PCR was performed with some samples (0, 0.25, 0.75 and 1.25 ppm) to determine the toxic effect to DEMC by detecting the expression levels of toxic-responsive genes. We used 11 genes, which included oxidative stress-related genes [sod(Mn), sod(Cu,Zn) and hsp70], mitochondrial metabolism-related genes (coxI, pyc, cyt and cyclinG1) and apoptosis-related genes (c-jun, bcl2, bax and p53). High-concentration DEMC-treated groups showed significant different survival rate, hatching rate and heart rate compared with low-concentration DEMC-treated groups. The LC50 of this chemical, 0.959 ppm, was calculated. We also confirmed that some genes in the DEMC exposure groups showed significantly up-regulations in expression levels compared with control groups. We concluded that the fluorescence agent, DEMC, has possible developmental toxicities and alteration effect of gene expression, which are related to oxidative stress, mitochondrial metabolism and apoptosis in zebrafish embryos. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.