In previous studies we have shown that sulfatide (galactosylceramide-3-O-sulfate), in various species, is present in the insulin-producing cells in pancreatic islets of Langerhans. In this study the synthesis of sulfatide in the islets has been investigated by pulse chase labeling at varying glucose levels and in the presence or absence of the glycosphingolipid synthesis inhibitory agents, Brefeldin A, fumonisin B1 and chloroquine and the distribution of sulfatide by immune-electronmicroscopy. The data showed that (1) sulfatide was produced in islets of Langerhans, (2) the main pathway for synthesis was through recycling involving partial degradation in the lysosome, and that (3) high glucose levels, although not primarily reflected in an increased synthesis of sulfatide, lead to an increased expression of mRNA for the UDP-galactose:ceramide galactosyltransferase, producing the immediate precursor of sulfatide. Furthermore, mass spectrometry analyses revealed a high proportion of short chain fatty acids, C16:0 (50%) and no hydroxylated forms and thus special physicochemical properties, indicating important differences between pancreatic and brain/neural sulfatide. Immune electron microscopy revealed an intracellular expression of sulfatide in the secretory granules, the Golgi network and the lysosomes of the islets. These results indicate that sulfatide follows the same intracellular route as insulin and suggest a functional association between these molecules. We have raised the hypothesis that sulfatide possibly plays a role in the trafficking of insulin in the islets of Langerhans in rat pancreas.