In vivo pancreatic acini from normal mice are exposed to very high concentrations of insulin. To determine whether insulin receptors in these acini are downregulated by this endogenous insulin, insulin receptors on acini from both normal and diabetic mice were studied. Isolated acini from normal mice, which have accompanying islets of Langerhans, were studied under conditions where endogenous insulin was minimized. These acini bound 50% less 125I-insulin than acini from mice made diabetic with streptozotocin. Computer analysis of competition-inhibition curves showed a decrease in the number of insulin receptors in acini from normal mice when compared with acini from diabetic mice; however, the IC50 (a measure of receptor affinity) remained unchanged at approximately 1 nM. To study further the regulation of acinar cell insulin receptors, acini from diabetic mice were placed in suspension culture for 24 h. Addition of 1 microM insulin during the culture period led to a 30% decrease in subsequent 125I-insulin binding; the presence or absence of either epidermal growth factor or carbachol was without effect on insulin binding. The decrease in binding induced by insulin resulted from a change in receptor number without an alteration of the IC50. Measurement of total acinar cell insulin receptors by solubilization of these acini in 1% Triton X-100 showed that this insulin-induced decrease was due to a change in the total number of cellular insulin receptors. The present study suggests, therefore, that insulin can regulate its own receptor on pancreatic acini and that in vivo insulin receptors in normal pancreatic cells are downregulated, presumably due to high ambient insulin concentrations.