Transgenic mice which overexpress insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1 (IGFPB-1) demonstrate fasting hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia and glucose intolerance in adult life. Here we have examined the ontogeny of pancreatic endocrine dysfunction and investigated islet cell proliferation and apoptosis in this mouse model. In addition we have examined pancreatic insulin content in transgenic mice derived from blastocyst transfer into non-transgenic mice. Transgenic mice were normoglycemic at birth but had markedly elevated plasma insulin levels, 56.2 +/- 4.5 versus 25.4 +/- 1.5 pmol/l, p < 0.001, and pancreatic insulin concentration, 60.5 +/- 2.5 versus 49.0 +/- 2.6 ng/mg of tissue, P < 0.01, compared with wild-type mice. Transgenic mice derived from blastocyst transfer to wild-type foster mothers had an elevated pancreatic insulin content similar to that seen in pups from transgenic mice. There was an age-related decline in pancreatic insulin content and plasma insulin levels and an increase in fasting blood glucose concentrations, such that adult transgenic mice had significantly less pancreatic insulin than wild-type mice. Pancreatic islet number and the size of mature islets were increased in transgenic animals at birth compared with wild-type mice. Both islet cell proliferation, measured by 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine labeling, and apoptosis, assessed by the in situ terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase and nick translation assay, were increased in islets of newborn transgenic mice compared with wild-type mice. In adult mice both islet cell proliferation and apoptosis were low and similar in transgenic and wild-type mice. Islets remained significantly larger and more numerous in adult transgenic mice despite a reduction in pancreatic insulin content. These data suggest that overexpression of IGFBP-1, either directly or indirectly via local or systemic mechanisms, has a positive trophic effect on islet development.