Oral cholestyramine, a bile salt sequestrant, stimulates pancreatic exocrine secretion and growth chiefly by increasing cholecystokinin (CCK) release. In this report, we examine pancreatic insulin content and insulin release from the isolated perfused pancreas in rats given oral cholestyramine (4%, wt/wt) or subcutaneous CCK-8 (1 micrograms/kg every 8 h) for 2 weeks. Cholestyramine significantly increased pancreatic weight by 32%. CCK administration significantly increased pancreatic weight by 15%. Total pancreatic content of protein and DNA were also increased significantly by cholestyramine and pancreatic protein content was increased significantly by CCK administration. Total pancreatic insulin content was not affected by cholestyramine or CCK. Both cholestyramine and CCK significantly increased the first phase of glucose (8.4 mM)-stimulated release of insulin [mean insulin output (ng/min): control, 2.0 +/- 0.1; cholestyramine, 2.7 +/- 0.2; CCK, 2.6 +/- 0.2]. Cholestyramine also significantly enhanced the second phase of glucose-stimulated release of insulin. Insulin release stimulated by CCK-8 (10(-10) M) was not affected by oral cholestyramine or CCK treatment. These findings indicate that oral cholestyramine and exogenous CCK have a stimulatory effect on beta cell function. Since pancreatic insulin content was not affected by cholestyramine and CCK treatment, cholestyramine and CCK may increase the sensitivity of beta cells to glucose. The absence of a stimulatory effect of cholestyramine and CCK administration on insulin release in response to CCK-8 may be related to a down-regulation of CCK receptors on beta cells.