In the normal rat pancreas, only few islet cells express MHC-class II antigens. Their nature and function has not yet been elucidated. We report a method for the purification of la-positive islet cells by fluorescenceactivated cell sorting. The isolated mononuclear cells appear of nonendocrine origin but contain vacuoles with partially digested secretory vesicles. Both insulinand glucagon-immunoreactive granules were identified in these vacuoles of varying size and composition. It is suggested that at least part of the rat islet cells with class II antigen expression can exhibit phagocytotic properties leading to the uptake of fragments from damaged endocrine cells. This functional characteristic may implicate this particular islet cell type in the pathology of the endocrine pancreas in type I diabetes.

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