Uptake of 65Zn and distribution of 65Zn, total zinc, and insulin were measured in rat islets and islet granules under different conditions of islet culture. Specific activity of islet zinc (65Zn/zinc) was less than 15% that of extracellular zinc even after 48 h. In contrast, once in the islet, 65Zn approached 70% of equilibrium with granular zinc in 24 h and apparent equilibrium by 48 h. During a 24-h culture, at either high or low glucose, reduction of both islet zinc and insulin occurred. However, zinc depletion was greater than that predicted if zinc loss was proportional to insulin depletion and occurred only from the granular compartment, which represents only one third of the total islet zinc. Extension of culture to 48 h caused additional insulin depletion, but islet zinc was unchanged. Omission of calcium during the 48-h culture caused a predicted increase in insulin retention, presumably by inhibiting secretion; however, zinc retention was not increased proportionately. Pretreatment of rats with tolbutamide caused a massive depletion of insulin stored in isolated islets, with little change in total islet zinc; subsequent culture of these islets resulted in a greater loss of granular zinc than predicted from the small loss of granular insulin. None of the conditions tested affected the percentage of either 65Zn or total zinc that was distributed in the islet granules. Results show that zinc exists in a metabolically labile islet compartment(s) as well as in secretory granules; and extra-granular zinc, although not directly associated with insulin storage, may act as a reservoir for granular zinc and may regulate insulin synthesis, storage, and secretion in ways as yet unknown.