The present study was conducted to examine an action of activin A on insulin secretion from rat pancreatic islets. In a batch incubation system, activin A stimulated insulin secretion in a dose-dependent manner at concentrations higher than 1 nM. Furthermore, activin A greatly potentiated glucose-induced insulin release. When islets were perifused with 1 nM activin A, insulin secretion was barely affected in this system. However, the insulin response to 16.7 mM glucose was greatly enhanced. Both the first and second phases of insulin response were enhanced by 1 nM activin A. These results indicate that, in addition to its known actions on pituitary-gonadal and hematopoietic systems, activin A modulates the function of pancreatic islets and stimulates insulin secretion.