Previous studies have shown that met- and leu-enkephalins are present in extracts of whole pancreas obtained from guinea pigs and human cadavers. The present studies demonstrate that immunoreactive methionine5 (met)- and leucine5 (leu)-enkephalins present in rat pancreas are localized in islets of Langerhans. Immunohistochemical staining of fixed, whole pancreas indicated that only islet endocrine cells were heavily stained when any of four different met- and leuenkephalin-directed antisera or an anti-BAM-22P (bovine adrenal medulla docosapeptide) antiserum was used. The peptides were characterized by a combination of gel-filtration chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and specific radioimmunoassay. Free met-enkephalin content in extracts of rat islets was 90-fold enriched over content in extracts of whole pancreas (1.72 ± 0.35 versus 0.019 ± 0.007 pmol/mg protein). Treatment with trypsin and carboxypeptidase-B of high-molecular-weight peptides extracted from pancreas or islets resulted in release of additional met-enkephalin immunoreactivity, which was 39-fold enriched in islets compared with pancreas (5.90 ± 0.58 and 0.153 ± 0.032 pmol/mg protein, respectively). Total islet content (per milligram protein) of met-enkephalin-containing peptides was similar to that reported elsewhere for bovine hypothalamus. The immunohistochemical data as well as the enrichment of extractable enkephalins in islets compared with whole pancreas indicate that essentially all the met-enkephalin present in pancreas is localized in islets, while the presence of BAM-22P immunoreactivity in islets is consistent with biosynthesis of enkephalins in islet cells via a preprohormone, such as that described in the bovine adrenal medulla and rat brain.

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