The aim of this study was to determine the effect of magnesium deficiency on small intestinal morphology and function. Rats were assigned to 4 groups and placed on magnesium sufficient or deficient diet for 1 or 3 weeks. Infiltration of neutrophils and mucosal injury were assessed in stained sections of small intestine. Magnesium deficiency alone induced a significant increase in neutrophil infiltration and increased vascular ICAM-1 expression, in the absence of changes in mucosal injury or expression of proinflammatory mediators. Magnesium deficiency was associated with hyposecretory epithelial cell responses and vascular macromolecular leak in the small intestine and lung, which was attributed partly to reduced expression of NOS-3. To determine the effect of hypomagnesmia on the intestinal responses to a known oxidative stress, groups of rats were randomized to either sham operation or superior mesenteric artery occlusion for 10 (non-injurious) or 30 (injurious) minutes followed by a 1- or 4-hour reperfusion period. In response to mesenteric ischemia/reperfusion, deficient rats showed exaggerated PMN influx, but similar mucosal injury. Intestinal ischemia in sufficient animals induced vascular macromolecular leak in the small intestine and lung at 4 hours of reperfusion, with levels similar to those observed in untreated deficient rats. Acute magnesium repletion of deficient rats 24 h before surgery attenuated the exaggerated inflammation in deficient rats. These data show that magnesium deficiency induced a subclinical inflammation in the small intestine in the absence of mucosal injury, but with significant functional changes in local and remote organs and increased sensitivity to oxidative stress.