Digital image analysis was employed for resolving the temporal and spatial variations of the cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) in pancreatic beta-cells loaded with the Ca(2+)-indicator Fura-2. Glucose-stimulated individual beta-cells exhibited large amplitude oscillations of [Ca2+]i with a mean frequency of 0.33 min-1. When Ca2+ diffusion was restricted by increasing the Ca2+ buffering capacity, the sugar-induced rise of [Ca2+]i preferentially affected the peripheral cytoplasm. When glucagon was present glucose also caused less prominent oscillations with about a 10-fold higher frequency superimposed on an elevated [Ca2+]i. In small clusters of 6-14 cells the average frequency of the large amplitude oscillations increased to 0.60 min-1. The clusters were found to contain micro-domains of electrically coupled cells with synchronized oscillations. After increasing the glucose concentration, adjacent domains became functionally coupled. The oscillations originated from different cells in the cluster. Also the fast glucagon-dependent oscillations were synchronized between cells and had different origins. The results indicate that coupling of beta-cells leads to an increased frequency of the large amplitude oscillations, and that the oscillatory characteristics are determined collectively among electrically coupled beta-cells rather than by particular pacemaker cells. In the light of these data it is necessary to reconsider the previous ideas that glucose-induced oscillations of membrane potential and [Ca2+]i require coupling between many beta-cells, and that the peak [Ca2+]i values reached during oscillations should increase with the size of the coupled cluster.