Zinc is intimately involved in insulin metabolism, its major known role being the binding of insulin in osmotically stable hexamers in beta-cell granules. To investigate the anatomical distribution of zinc ions necessary for insulin binding we examined the rat pancreas by autometallography (AMG). AMG demonstrates chelatable zinc and is a sensitive marker for zinc in vesicles and also a surrogate marker for recently described zinc pumps regulating intravesicular zinc metabolism. Zinc ions were found in alpha- and beta-cell granules, primarily in the periphery of the granules. Only occasionally was zinc seen in other islet cell types. AMG allows the study of the microscopic and ultrastructural localisation of free zinc ions in the pancreas. The applicability of the method at the ultrastructural level in particular makes AMG a very sensitive tool in future studies on the role of zinc ions in the pancreas.