The endocrine cells of the pancreas develop from the endoderm and yet display several characteristics of a neuronal phenotype. During embryonic life, ductal epithelial cells give rise to first the glugagon-producing cells (alpha-cells) and then cells that express insulin (beta-cells), somatostatin (delta-cells), and pancreatic polypeptide (PP-cells) in a sequential order. The endocrine cells are believed to arise from a stem cell with neuronal traits. The developmental lineage from a common neuron-like progenitor is evidenced by: transient coexpression of more than one cell type-specific hormone in immature cells, expression of neuronal markers during islet cell development, and the pluripotentiality of clones of insulinoma cells to develop into cells expressing other islet cell hormones. The four mature endocrine cell types assume a particular organization within the islets of Langerhans in a process where cell adhesion molecules are involved. In this study we have analyzed the expression of neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) and cadherin molecules in neonatal, young, and adult rat islet cells as well as in glucagonomas and insulinomas derived from a pluripotent rat islet cell tumor. Whereas primary islet cells at all ages express unsialylated NCAM and E-cadherin, as do insulinomas, the glucagonomas express the polysialylated NCAM, which is characteristic for developing neurons. The glucagonomas also lose E-cadherin expression and instead express a cadherin which is similar to N-cadherin in brain. Insulinoma cells express E-cadherin but differ from primary islet cells by expressing a second cadherin molecule, which is similar to N-cadherin. The expression of NCAM and cadherin isoforms in the glucagonoma suggest that this transformed alpha-cell type has converted to an immature phenotype with strong neuronal traits, reflecting the early palce of glucagon-producing cells in the islet cell lineage. In contrast, insulinoma cells are more islet-like in their phenotype and show less neuronal traits.