A thick endothelial glycocalyx contributes to the barrier function of vascular endothelium in macro- and microcirculation. We hypothesised in the current study that diet-induced hyperlipidaemia perturbs the glycocalyx, resulting in decreased dimensions of this layer and increased transendothelial lipoprotein leakage in capillaries. Glycocalyx thickness was measured in mouse cremaster muscle capillaries by intravital microscopy from the distance between flowing red blood cells and the endothelial surface. In control C57BL/6 mice on standard chow, glycocalyx thickness measured 0.58 +/- 0.01 (mean +/- SEM) mu m, and no lipoproteins were observed in the tissue. After three months administration of an either mild or severe high-fat / high-cholesterol diet (HFC) to C57BL/6 and ApoE3-Leiden mice, circulating large lipoproteins appeared into the subendothelial space in an increasing proportion of cremaster capillaries, and these capillaries displayed reduced glycocalyx dimensions of 0.40 +/- 0.02 and 0.30 +/- 0.01 mu m (C57BL/6 mice), and 0.37 +/- 0.01 and 0.28 +/- 0.01 mu m (ApoE3-Leiden mice), after the mild and severe HFC diet, respectively. The chylomicron nature of the accumulated lipoproteins was confirmed by observations of subendothelial deposition of Dil-labeled chylomicrons in capillaries after inducing acute glycocalyx degradation by heparitinase in normolipidaemic C57BL/6 mice. It is concluded that while under control conditions the endothelial glycocalyx contributes to the vascular barrier against trans-vascular lipoprotein leakage in the microcirculation, diet-induced hyperlipidaemia reduces the thickness of the glycocalyx, thereby facilitating leakage of chylomicrons across the capillary wall.