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Endothelial glycocalyx: basic science and clinical implications

Department of Anaesthetics, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales


The classic Starling principle proposed that microvascular fluid exchange was determined by a balance of hydrostatic and oncotic pressures relative to the vascular wall and this movement of water was regulated by gaps in the intercellular spaces. However, current literature on the endothelial glycocalyx (a jelly-like protective layer covering the luminal surface of the endothelium) has revised Starling’s traditional concepts. This article aims to summarise the literature on the glycocalyx related to its basic science, clinical settings inciting injury, protective strategies and clinical perspectives. Perioperative damage to the glycocalyx structure can increase vascular permeability leading to interstitial fluid shifts, oedema, and increased surgical morbidity. Pathological shedding of the glycocalyx occurs in response to mechanical cellular stress, endotoxins, inflammatory mediators, atrial natriuretic peptide, ischaemia–reperfusion injury, free oxygen radicals and hyperglycaemia. Increased understanding of the endothelial glycocalyx may change perioperative fluid management, and therapeutic strategies aimed at its preservation may improve patient outcomes.

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