Interleukin-18 (IL-18) mRNA is expressed in islets of NOD mice during the early stages of insulitis and IL-18 has therefore been implicated as a contributing factor in immune-mediated beta-cell destruction. However, a recent study failed to show any effect of human IL-18 on the function of isolated rat islets. Since species differences have been shown between human and murine IL-18, the aims of this study were to investigate 1) if species homologous IL-18 alone or following IL-12 pre-exposure affected rat islet function, 2) if IL-18 dose-dependently modulated IL-1 beta or interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) + tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) actions on islet function, and 3) if IL-18 and IL-18 receptor (IL-18R) were expressed in rat islet beta-cells. Insulin release and nitric oxide (NO) production from isolated rat islets were measured after incubation with or without cytokines. RT-PCR was used to quantitate mRNA expression of IL-18 and the IL-18R signaling chain (IL-18R beta). There were no significant effects of 0.625-10 nM recombinant murine (rm) IL-18 alone on accumulated or glucose-challenged insulin release or NO production after 24 hours. Fifteen pg/ml of recombinant human (rh) IL-1 beta as well as 200 U/ml recombinant rat (rr) IFN-gamma + 250 U/ml rhTNF-alpha significantly increased islet NO production and inhibited both accumulated and glucose-challenged islet insulin release. However, rmIL-18 failed to modulate these effects of IL-1 beta or IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha. Although IL-12 induces IL-18R expression in Th1 and B lymphocytes, 24-hours rmIL-12 preincubation neither sensitized islets to effects of 10 nM of rm or rrIL-18 alone nor primed the islets to IL-1 beta actions on insulin release and NO production. IL-18R beta mRNA, which was expressed in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), was not expressed in rat insulinoma (RIN) cells or in isolated rat islets, even after exposure to IL-1 beta and/or IFN-gamma + TNF-alpha or IL-12. IL-18 mRNA was constitutively expressed in RIN cells, in FACS-purified rat beta-cells and in intact rat and mouse islets, and was up-regulated by IFN-gamma in an interferon regulatory factor-1- IRF-1) and NO - independent manner. However, IL-18 protein was undetectable in lysates and supernates of RIN cells by ECL, Western blotting and immunoprecipitation. In conclusion, we show for the first time that IL-18 but not IL-18R is expressed in rodent islet beta-cells. The physiological importance and pathological role of IL-18 originating from islet beta-cells deserve further investigation.