The term glycocalyx refers to the extracellular polymeric material produced by various cell types and is also known as the "sweet husk of the cell".


While electron microscopic observations in the 1950’s already identified the presence of glycocalyx structures on the luminal surface of vascular endothelial cells, its functional significance remained unknown until 1979 when intravital microscopy studies from the group of Prof. Brian Duling at the University of Virginia suggested, based on observations of capillary blood filling in hamster muscle, that the endothelial glycocalyx may represent a ~1 µm thick layer on the luminal surface of blood vessels which limits access of circulating blood towards the vessel wall. 


Regulation of the accessibility of blood into this relatively thick compartment could then contribute not only to control of capillary red cell filling and tissue oxygen supply, but also to the control of nutrient exchange and tissue hydration.


About 15 years later, the concept of a relatively thick, permselective endothelial glycocalyx could be supported experimentally by Hans Vink who at that time was a postdoctoral associate in the Duling laboratory. Hans was able to directly visualize the exclusion of red blood cells from the capillary endothelial glycocalyx (see movie 1), and reported on its limited permeation by dextrans in a molecular-size and charge dependent manner.



>> Learn more about Glycocalyx background here


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