The perforated patch whole-cell configuration of the patch-clamp technique was applied to superficial cells in intact mouse pancreatic islets. Three types of electrical activity were observed corresponding to alpha-, beta- and delta-cells. The delta-cells were electrically active in the presence of glucose but lacked the oscillatory pattern seen in the beta-cells. By contrast, the alpha-cells were electrically silent at high glucose concentrations but action potentials could be elicited by removal of the sugar. Both alpha- and beta-cells contained transient voltage-activated K+ currents. In the delta-cells, the K+ currents activated above -20 mV and were completely blocked by TEA (20 mM). The alpha-cells differed from the delta-cells in possessing a TEA-resistant K+ current activating already at -40 mV. Immunocytochemistry revealed the presence of Kv3.4 channels in delta-cells and TEA-resistant Kv4.3 channels in alpha-cells. Thus the presence of a transient TEA-resistant current can be used to functionally separate the delta- and alpha-cells. A TTX-sensitive Na+ current developed in delta-cells during depolarisations beyond -30 mV and reached a peak amplitude of 350 pA. Steady-state inactivation of this current was half-maximal at -28 mV. The delta-cells were also equipped with a sustained Ca2+ current that activated above -30 mV and reached a peak of 60 pA when measured at 2.6 mM extracellular Ca2+. A tolbutamide-sensitive KATP channel conductance was observed in delta-cells exposed to glucose-free medium. Addition of tolbutamide (0.1 mM) depolarised the delta-cell and evoked electrical activity. We propose that the KATP channels in delta-cells serve the same function as in the beta-cell and couple an elevation of the blood glucose concentration to stimulation of hormone release.