Inner ear malformations induced in anotic hamster fetuses following maternal treatment with 50 mg/kg isotretinoin (13-cis-retinoic acid) on gestational day 8 are described. Computer-assisted three dimensional reconstruction was used. Two general types of defective vestibulocochlear development were seen. Defects were bilateral and correlated with extent of middle ear deficiency and severity of mandibular defects. In the more severely affected fetuses the inner ear was limited to an epithelial sac with occasional small projections, no apparent innervation and a correspondingly reduced otic capsule. In most of the fetuses examined the inner ear was less severely affected and was characterized by a reduction in the number of semicircular ducts and alterations in the size and shape of the cochlear duct. These defects are similar to those seen in a child with the isotretinoin embryopathy. Pathogenesis may result from a direct effect on otic epithelium or from faulty inductive interactions with the rhombencephalon or with periotic neural crest cells. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.