Wistar Furth (RT1u) islets transplanted under the renal capsules of streptozotocin-diabetic Lewis (RT1l) rats reject after 5-6 days of normoglycemia. Hand-picked WF islets (1500-2000) were transplanted under the kidney capsules of diabetic Lew or WF rats. Rats bearing iso- or allografts were killed on posttransplant days 2, 4, and 6. Serial frozen sections of grafts and controls were stained by immunoperoxidase for rat MAC-1, class II MHC, CD2, CD4, CD8, B-cells, VLA-4, LFA-1, L-selectin, ICAM-1, and VCAM-1. Infiltrating cells, parenchymal cells, and endothelial cells in five distinct compartments (i.e., peritoneal reflection, subcapsular perivascular space, islet grafts, graft-kidney interface, and kidney) were evaluated for expression of the various markers at each interval. Significant infiltrates arrived in three distinct waves in both iso- and allografts. First, macrophages blanketed the peritoneal capsular reflection and infiltrated by day 2. Second, the first wave of lymphocytes arrived in the edematous subcapsular soft tissue via capsular vessels by day 2 (allo > iso). Third, the second wave of lymphocytes arrived from the renal parenchyma to form a dense band at the graft-kidney interface and around grafts by days 4 and 6 (allo >>> iso); CD4+ cells vastly outnumbered CD8+ cells, with CD4+ cells being mobilized first and from interstitial vessels throughout the entire kidney. CD8+ cells emigrated only from renal interstitial vessels adjacent to the graft. Large numbers of L-selectin+, VLA-4+, and LFA-1+ cells were seen in the infiltrates with the most intensely staining cells being intravascular. B-cells composed a very small proportion of infiltrating cells in both allo- and isografts. Endothelial staining for ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 was prominent throughout. Both class II MHC and ICAM-1 expression were induced on renal tubular epithelial cells, but neither was found on islet parenchymal cells. In conclusion, this study shows that islet allograft rejection is more complex than previously realized.