In a DBA/2 (H-2d) pancreatic islet-to-B6AF1 (H-2b/k.d) recipient combination, the graft survival of hand-picked islets was compared with that of "crude digested" islets that were prepared simply by collagenase digestion and Ficoll gradient separation and were contaminated with lymph nodes and vascular and ductal tissue. Islet allografts were transplanted into the renal subcapsular space of streptozotocin-induced diabetic recipients. No immunosuppression was used. All the crude digested islet allografts were acutely rejected between days 7 and 18 with a median survival time (MST) of 10.2 +/- 2.5 days. In contrast, 33% (3/9) of the purified islet allografts survived more than 100 days. Simultaneous transplantation of purified islets and contaminating tissue resulted in a shorter graft survival (MST of 15.6 +/- 3.7 days). When 5 X 10(7) donor strain spleen cells were injected i.v. at the time of transplantation, all purified islet grafts were acutely rejected within 9 days. In addition, the rejection time of the purified islet allografts was inversely correlated with the number of donor spleen cells injected. These results indicate that contaminating tissues such as lymph nodes, vascular tissue, and ductal fragments present in the crude digested islet allografts are a major stimulus for induction of an immune response resulting in acute rejection of islet allografts.