Xenin is a 25-amino-acid peptide extractable from mammalian tissue. This peptide is biologically active. It stimulates exocrine pancreatic secretion and intestinal motility and inhibits gastric secretion of acid and food intake. Xenin circulates in the human plasma after meals. In this study, the cellular origin of xenin in the gastro-entero-pancreatic system of humans, Rhesus monkeys, and dogs was investigated by immunohistochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy. Sequence-specific antibodies against xenin detected specific endocrine cells in the duodenal and jejunal mucosa of all three species. These xenin-immunoreactive cells were distinct from enterochromaffin, somatostatin, motilin, cholecystokinin, neurotensin, and secretin cells, and comprised 8.8% of the chromogranin A-positive cells in the dog duodenum and 4.6% of the chromogranin A-positive cells in human duodenum. In all three species, co-localization of xenin was found with a subpopulation of gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP)-immunoreactive cells. Immunoelectron microscopy in the canine duodenal mucosa demonstrated accumulation of gold particles in round, homogeneous, and osmiophilic secretory granules with a closely adhering membrane of 187 +/- 19 nm diameter (mean +/- SEM). This cell type was found to be identical to the previously described canine GIP cell. Immunocytochemical expression of the peptide xenin in a subpopulation of chromogranin A-positive cells as well as the localization of xenin immunoreactivity in ultrastructurally characterized secretory granules permitted the identification of a novel endocrine cell type as the cellular source of circulating xenin.