The purpose of this study was to evaluate the radiolabeled microsphere technique for pancreatic blood flow measurements. Using a canine model with an isolated pancreatic circulation, we assessed the shunting of 11- and 15-microns-diam microspheres in the pancreas, correlated pancreatic blood flow measurements obtained with the microsphere technique with those made with an ultrasonic flow probe, and determined the effects of high doses of microspheres on pancreatic blood flow and its measurement. Microspheres of 11 microns demonstrate significant shunting through the pancreatic microcirculation with underestimation of pancreatic blood flow of approximately 10% compared with results obtained with 15-microns microspheres. There is a close linear relationship between flow results obtained with 15-microns microspheres and with an ultrasonic flow probe for both the resting (r = 0.85) and the secretin-stimulated pancreas (r = 0.97). Left atrial injections of very large doses of 15-microns microspheres (50 x 10(6)) caused an acute transient reduction of pancreatic blood flow (to 39% of baseline flow) with a return to baseline values within 2 min. The accuracy of flow results and absence of physiological changes after repeated injections support the use of 15-microns microspheres for pancreatic blood flow measurements.