With the use of nanoparticles (NPs) in many industrial activities and consumer products, it is important to evaluate the effects of their release into the environment. Metal NPs (e.g., Ni-NPs or Cu-NPs) can release metal ions that are toxic to aquatic organisms; however, whether the toxicity is from metal ions rather than unique "nano-scale" effects of the NPs is unresolved. This research investigated Ni-NP toxicity in zebrafish Danio rerio larvae to clarify whether toxic effects are attributable to release of Ni ions. First, the acute (96-h lethal) toxicity of Ni-NPs was determined in comparison to aqueous Ni in fish exposed to Ni(II) by water-soluble NiCl2. Subsequently, sublethal experiments with Ni-NPs and Ni(II) were conducted to assess changes in expression of stress-related genes (mt2, rad51, and p53) by quantitative PCR. Acute toxicity of Ni in fish exposed to Ni(II) was higher (96-h LC50 = 32.6 mg/L) than for fish exposed to Ni-NPs (96-h LC50 = 122.2 mg/L). Also, DNA strand breaks were higher in Ni(II)- than Ni-NPs-exposed larvae. Induction of stress-related genes in larvae was complex and was not directly related to Ni-NPs and Ni(II) concentration, although there was a significant induction in the mt2 and p53 gene of the larvae exposed to Ni-NPs and Ni(II) relative to controls. Results indicated that while Ni-NPs induced gene expression (presumably by the release of Ni ions), the differences in concentration relationships of gene expression between Ni-NPs and Ni(II) suggest that factors in addition to the release of Ni ions from Ni-NPs influence acute toxicity of Ni-NPs.