The pancreas contains a local renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which is subject to activation by experimental pancreatitis. In the exocrine pancreas, angiotensin II receptor subtypes AT1 and AT2 have been localized in the pancreatic ducts, blood vessels and acinar cells. We hypothesize that local RAS activities may have a potential role in regulating pancreatic acinar digestive enzyme secretion. The present study was designed to elucidate firstly the existence of RAS components in pancreatic acinar cells and their regulation by acute pancreatitis. Secondly, the differential roles of AT1 and AT2 receptors in controlling digestive enzyme secretion from dispersed functional pancreatic acini were also investigated. The mRNA levels of RAS components were assessed by semi-quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Acinar secretions were assayed by the measurement of alpha-amylase and lipase activities. Induction of acute pancreatitis was achieved by hyperstimulation of two intraperitoneal (i.p.) injections of cerulein (50 microg/kg/h). Results from RT-PCR showed that the mRNA levels of the major RAS components (angiotensinogen, AT1 and AT2 receptors) were expressed in isolated rat pancreatic acinar cells, and they were upregulated during pancreatitis. Exogenous addition of angiotensin II could stimulate a dose-dependent release of digestive enzymes from the acinar cells. Administration of the selective AT1 receptor antagonist losartan significantly inhibited the acinar digestion enzyme secretion in both normal and pancreatitis-induced acini. However, a specific AT2 receptor blocker PD123319 did not exhibit such a suppressive effect. These data indicate the existence of an acinar RAS in the pancreas of potential importance in the physiological regulation of digestive enzyme secretion. The differential actions of AT1 and AT2 receptors and their upregulation may have clinical relevance to the pathogenesis and management of acute pancreatitis.