A reverse hemolytic plaque assay was developed to visualize insulin release from individual adult pancreatic B cells. Cells obtained by mechanical dispersion of isolated rat islets of Langerhans were mixed with protein A-coated sheep red blood cells and incubated in the presence of an anti-insulin serum, under conditions known to affect insulin release. The cell mixture was further incubated with complement and finally fixed. Insulin release was revealed by the presence of hemolytic plaques which resulted from the complement-mediated lysis of red blood cells bearing insulin-anti-insulin complexes bound to protein A. Quantitation of hemolytic plaques around trypan blue-unstained and immunohistochemically identified B cells showed that stimulation of insulin release results in the recruitment of increasing numbers of secreting B cells as well as in the enhanced response of individual B cells. Reverse changes occur upon inhibition of insulin release. Comparison of freshly dispersed and one-day-cultured preparations did not reveal significant differences in the secretory response of undamaged B cells. In both preparations, single B cells responded to secretagogues in smaller proportions and to a lesser extent than clusters in which B cells had either maintained or restored contacts and junctional communication with their neighbours. However, the overall preponderant response of clusters was less than expected from the number of individually secreting B cells they contained. The data show that B cells are heterogeneous in terms of their ability to release insulin and provide evidence that cell-to-cell adhesion and/or junctional communication regulate hormone secretion from individual B cells.