To investigate the role of the islets of Langerhans in pancreatic carcinogenesis, freshly isolated islets from male Syrian hamsters were transplanted into the right submandibular glands of 50 female hamsters that were or were not pre-treated with streptozotocin. Thyroid gland fragments, cellulose powder, and immortal hamster pancreatic ductal cells were injected into the left submandibular gland of the same hamsters. All recipient hamsters were then treated with the potent pancreatic carcinogen N-nitrosobis(2-oxopropyl)amine weekly at a dose of 40 mg/kg of body weight for 3 weeks. Between 3 and 8 weeks later, 18 of 75 (24%) hamsters developed large ductal-type adenocarcinomas in the submandibular gland region, where islets were transplanted, but none developed tumors in the left submandibular gland. In 9 of 18 hamsters, tumors were multiple so that a total of 31 cancers were found. Eleven of these carcinomas were in the vicinity of transplanted islets, eight of which showed intra-insular ductular or cyst formation as seen in the pancreas of hamsters during pancreatic carcinogenesis. The formation of ductular structures within islets was also demonstrated in vitro. Some tumor cells in the vicinity of these islets were reactive with anti-insulin. Y chromosome message was found by polymerase chain reaction analysis in one of the three tumors examined. Also, like the induced pancreatic tumors, all three submandibular gland tumors that were examined had the mutation of the c-Ki-ras oncogene at codon 12 and all tumors expressed blood group A antigen. These and other findings strongly suggest that some components of islets, most probably stem cells, are the origin of ductal-type adenocarcinomas in this model.