The effect of a high concentration of NaCl on the intra- (cytoplasmic matrix and vacuole) and extracellular (cell wall) distribution of Na, Cl, K, Mg, Ca, S, and P was investigated in suspension-cultured cells of the mangrove halophyte Sonneratia alba and compared to cultured cells of glycophytic rice (Oryza sativa). No significant differences were observed in ultrastructural features of cluster cells of both species cultured with and without 50mM NaCl. Quantitative X-ray microanalysis of cryosections of the cells cultured in the presence of 50mM NaCl showed that the Na concentration ([Na]) and Cl concentration ([Cl]) significantly increased in all three cell components measured. In S. alba, the [Na] was highest in the vacuole and lowest in the cytoplasmic matrix, while the [Cl] was highest in the cell wall and lowest in the cytoplasmic matrix. In O. sativa, however, the [Na] and [Cl] were highest in the cell wall, and the [Na] was lowest in the cytoplasmic matrix. Thus, the possible activities for Na and Cl transport from the cytoplasmic matrix into the vacuole were greater in S. alba than in O. sativa, suggesting that halophilic mangrove cells gain salt tolerance by transporting Na and Cl into their vacuoles. In O. sativa, the addition of NaCl to the culture medium caused no significant changes to the intracellular concentrations of various elements, such as K, P, S, Ca, and Mg, which suggests the absence of a direct relationship with the transport Na and Cl. In contrast, a marked decrease in the Ca concentration ([Ca]) in the cytoplasmic matrix and vacuole and an approximately two-fold increase in the P concentration ([P]) in the cytoplasmic matrix were found in S. alba, suggesting that the decrease in the [Ca] is related to the halophilic nature of S. alba (as indicated by the inward movement of Na(+) and Cl(-)). The possible roles of a Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchange mechanism in halophilism and the effect of the [P] on the metabolic activity under saline conditions are discussed.