The scarcity of available islets is an obstacle for clinically successful islet transplantation. One solution might be to increase the efficacy of the limited islets. Isolated islets are exposed to a variety of cellular stressors, and disruption of the cell-matrix connections damages islets. We examined the effect of fibronectin, a major component of the extracellular matrix, on islet viability, mass and function, and also examined whether fibronectin-treated islets improved the results of islet transplantation. Islets cultured with fibronectin for 48 hours maintained higher cell viability (0.146 +/- 0.010 vs. 0.173 +/- 0.007 by MTT assay), and also had a greater insulin and DNA content (86.8 +/- 3.6 vs. 72.8 +/- 3.2 ng/islet and 35.2 +/- 1.4 vs. 30.0 +/- 1.5 ng/islet, respectively) than islets cultured without fibronectin (control). Absolute values of insulin secretion were higher in fibronectin-treated islets than in controls; however, the ratio of stimulated insulin secretion to basal secretion was not significantly different (206.9 +/- 23.3 vs. 191.7 +/- 20.2% when the insulin response to 16.7 mmol/l glucose was compared to that of 3.3 mmol/l glucose); the higher insulin secretion was thus mainly due to larger islet cell mass. The rats transplanted with fibronectin-treated islets had lower plasma glucose and higher plasma insulin levels within 2 weeks after transplantation, and had more favorable glucose tolerance 9 weeks after transplantation. These results indicate that cultivation with fibronectin might preserve islet cell viability, mass and insulin secretory function, which could improve glucose tolerance following islet transplantation.