Using a modification of the basic principles of pancreatic intraductal collagenase digestion and density gradient purification to isolate canine islets, in conjunction with simultaneous fluorogenic and dithizone islet staining, we quantified the yield, purity, and viability of the isolated islets. We then determined the combined influences of total and weight-corrected islet counts and implantation site on immediate and long-term functional outcome of purified canine islet autografts. Weight-corrected islet counts were 100% sensitive and specific in differentiating successful and unsuccessful islet autografts implanted to the liver (n = 10) and spleen (n = 10) of pancreatectomized dogs. The threshold number of islets required to achieve normoglycemia in the liver (4400 islets/kg) and spleen (4650 islets/kg) were nearly identical. Islet autografts failed to ameliorate hyperglycemia when implanted to the renal subcapsular space (n = 5) at counts of 4400 to 5500 islets/kg. The mean one- and three-month intravenous glucose tolerance test K-values of dogs with purified islet autografts to the liver (-1.43 +/- 0.27 and -1.69 +/- 0.27, respectively) and spleen (-1.78 +/- 0.36 and -1.64 +/- 0.3, respectively) were also similar. Time needed to achieve normoglycemia , however, was significantly (P less than 0.02) shorter for intrahepatic islets (1.0 +/- 0.0 days posttransplant) than intrasplenic islets (6.8 +/- 2.3 days posttransplant). The long-term durability of islet autograft function was not unlimited. Overall, thirteen canine islet autograft recipients have been followed for greater than or equal to 12 months posttransplant (range 12-18 months), seven canine islet autograft recipients (five intrahepatic and two intrasplenic) have had spontaneous recurrence of hyperglycemia at 2, 6, 11, 13, 14, 8, and 16 months, respectively. The phenomenon depended only on the number of islets implanted. The data underscore the significance of quantitatively defined islet preparations and the importance of islet number and implantation site on immediate and long-term functional outcome of canine islet autografts.