To evaluate the potential of utilizing porcine islet tissue as an alternative to human islet tissue for transplantation, we developed a method for the isolation of large amounts of highly purified porcine islets, and assessed the in vitro and in vivo function of the isolated islets after 1, 4, and 7 days of culture. The pancreatic duct of the splenic lobe was cannulated and distended by injection of Hanks' balanced salt solution containing 1.5 mg/ml collagenase. The pancreas was then processed by a modification of the automated digestion-filtration method developed in this laboratory, and with purification accomplished by Euro-Ficoll gradients (dialyzed Ficoll in Eurocollins solution), consisting of two layers of 1.108 and 1.091 g/cm3 density, topped with a layer of HBSS. The postpurification yield was 5203 +/- 645 (mean +/- SEM) islets per gram of pancreas with a number of islet equivalents (IE) per gram pancreas (islet equivalence: 150-microns-sized islets) of 3551 +/- 305, and a volume of 6.27 +/- 1.7 mm3 islet tissue per gram of pancreas. The islet purity exceeded 90%. Overnight-cultured, perifused porcine islets released 53.1 +/- 8.2 pM insulin/200 IE at 3.3 mM glucose, and 114.9 +/- 25.4 pM insulin/200 IE at 16.7 mM glucose (P less than 0.001 vs. basal output). When theophylline was added, insulin secretion increased to 264.2 +/- 63.2 pM/200 IE (P less than 0.001 vs. basal secretion and P less than 0.005 vs. secretion at 16.7 mM glucose). After 4 days of culture, the islets still responded to secretagogues. The functional integrity of the isolated islets was confirmed by reversal of diabetes in aL3T4 antibody-treated C57B/B6 diabetic mice: normoglycemia was promptly restored by transplanting 1000 overnight- or 7-day-cultured (24 degrees C) islets under the kidney capsule. These results suggest that continued improvements of porcine islet isolation and culture could permit the use of porcine islets in immunoalteration and immunoisolation studies that may lead to eventual human transplantation.