Pancreatic islets, or suspensions of islet cells, from noninbred ob/ob-mice were incubated with chlorotetracycline and analyzed for Ca2+-dependent fluorescence in a microscope. Unless logarithmically transformed, signals from islets were asymmetrically distributed with unstable variance. Signals from cells pelleted in glass capillaries were more homogeneous and depended linearly on the thickness of the sample. The effect of sample thickness and a significant enhancement of fluorescence by alloxan suggest that beta-cells were involved in producing the signal from whole islets. The signal from dispersed cells was probably diagnostic of Ca2+ in beta-cell plasma membranes because it was suppressed by La3+ and had a spectrum indicative of an apolar micromilieu; fluorescent staining of cell surfaces was directly seen at high magnification. Fluorescence from cells was enhanced by 0.5-10 mM Ca2+ in a dose-dependent manner, whereas less than 0.5 mM Ca2+ saturated the probe alone in methanol. The signal from islets or dispersed cells was suppressed by 5 mM theophylline; that from cells was also suppressed by 0.5 mM 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine, 1.2 or 15 mM Mg2+, 3-20 mM D-glucose, and, to a lesser extent, 20 mM 3-O-methyl-D-glucose. D-glucose was more inhibitory in the absence than in the presence of Mg2+, as if Mg2+ and D-glucose influenced the same Ca2+ pool. L-glucose, D-mannopheptulose, or diazoxide had no noticeable effect and 20 mM bicarbonate was stimulatory. The results suggest that microscopy of chlorotetracycline-stained cells can aid in characterizing calcium pools of importance for secretion. Initiation of insulin release may be associated with an increas

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