A new type of nanocomposite ion-exchange membranes containing sulfonated polyethersulfone (sPES) polymer matrix and sulfonated surface-functionalized mesoporous silica (SS) inorganic fillers was prepared. Various characterizations revealed that the addition of inorganic fillers with different shapes had a significant influence on the membrane structure. The mesoporous inorganic fillers not only created extra pore and water channels, assisting the ionic migration and improving conductivity of the composites, but also provided additional fixed charge groups upon surface modification. This allows the Donnan exclusion to work effectively and thus improve the selectivity of membranes. It was proved that the incorporation of appropriate amount of SS additive could significantly improve the conductivity (up to 20 folds) and permselectivity (about 14%) of the sPES membranes. The performance of these newly developed membranes in desalination by electrodialysis was comparable with that of a commercial membrane (FKE). © 2011 Elsevier Inc.