Hyperosmotic stress affects cell growth, decreasing cell volume and increasing the uptake of organic osmolytes. However, the sensitivity of embryonic cells to osmotic treatment remains to be established. We have analysed some aspects of cell-cycle control and amino-acid transport in hypertonic conditions during prenatal life. The effects of hyperosmotic stress on amino-acid uptake mediated by system A, 3H-thymidine incorporation, and regulation of cell-cycle proteins were analysed in chick embryo hepatocytes. Hypertonic stress increased system A activity and caused cell-cycle delay. Effects on amino-acid transport involved p38 kinase activation and new carrier synthesis. Cyclin D1, cdk4 (cyclin-dependent kinase 4) and PCNA (proliferating-cell nuclear antigen) levels decreased, whereas cyclin E, p21 and p53 levels were unchanged. Incorporation of 3H-leucine indicated decreased synthesis of cyclin D1. In contrast, analysis of mRNA by qRT-PCR (quantitative real-time PCR) showed a net increase of cyclin D1 transcripts, suggesting post-transcriptional regulation. The data show that chick embryo hepatocytes respond to hyperosmotic conditions by arresting cell growth to prevent DNA damage and increasing osmolyte uptake to regulate cell volume, indicating that the adaptive response to environmental stress exists during prenatal life.