1. Using laser scanning confocal microscopy to image [Ca2+]i within intact murine islets of Langerhans, we analysed the [Ca2+]i signals generated by glucose in immunocytochemically identified alpha-, beta- and delta-cells. 2. Glucagon-containing alpha-cells exhibited [Ca2+]i oscillations in the absence of glucose, which petered out when islets were exposed to high glucose concentrations. 3. Somatostatin-containing delta-cells were silent in the absence of glucose but concentrations of glucose as low as 3 mM elicited oscillations. 4. In pancreatic beta-cells, a characteristic oscillatory calcium pattern was evoked when glucose levels were raised from 3 to 11 mM and this was synchronized throughout the beta-cell population. Remarkably, [Ca2+]i oscillations in non-beta-cells were completely asynchronous, both with respect to each other and to beta-cells. 5. These results demonstrate that the islet of Langerhans behaves as a functional syncytium only in terms of beta-cells, implying a pulsatile secretion of insulin. However, the lack of a co-ordinated calcium signal in alpha- and delta-cells implies that each cell acts as an independent functional unit and the concerted activity of these units results in a smoothly graded secretion of glucagon and somatostatin. Understanding the calcium signals underlying glucagon and somatostatin secretion may be of importance in the treatment of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus since both glucagon and somatostatin appear to regulate insulin release in a paracrine fashion.