In the neonatal period of the rat, pancreatic thyrotropin-releasing hormone content decreases and the sensitivity of insulin secretion to glucose increases. In adult rat islets, TRH inhibits glucose-induced insulin release. The aim of this study was to investigate whether a high TRH content and release can be part of the explanation for the functional immaturity of neonatal islets. For that purpose, we have measured the tissue content and the secretion of immunoreactive insulin, glucagon, somatostatin and TRH in islets from 21.5-day-old rat fetuses cultured for up to one week. Insulin, glucagon and somatostatin content increased during one week of culture in the presence of 11.1 mmol/l glucose. The TRH content decreased during culture, but did not equal adult values. Insulin, glucagon and somatostatin responses to glucose were present after one week of culture. Glucose had no effect on TRH release in cultured fetal islets, but inhibited TRH release in adult islets. We conclude that glucose can stimulate insulin secretion without inhibiting TRH release, but that a decrease in islet TRH content and a sensitization of TRH secretion to glucose may be important in the full maturation of fetal pancreatic islets.