Symbiotic Aiptasia pulchella and freshly isolated zooxanthellae were incubated in (NaHCO3)-C-14 and NH4Cl for 1 to 240 min, and samples were analysed by reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and an online radiochemical detector. NH4+ was first assimilated into C-14-glutamate and C-14-glutamine in the zooxanthellae residing in A. pulchella. The specific activities (dpm nmol(-1)) of C-14-glutamate and C-14-glutamine in vivo, were far greater in the zooxanthellae than in the host tissue, indicating that NH4+ was principally incorporated into the glutamate and glutamine pools of the zooxanthellae. C-14-alpha-ketoglutarate was taken up from the medium by intact A. pulchella and assimilated into a small amount of C-14-glutamate in the host tissue, but no C-14-glutamine was detected in the host fraction. The C-14-glutamate that was synthesized was most likely produced from transamination reactions as opposed to the direct assimilation of NH4+. The free aminoacid composition of the host tissue and zooxanthellae of A. pulchella was also measured. The results presented here demonstrate that NH4+ was initially assimilated by the zooxanthellae of A. pulchella.