The glomerular filtration barrier (GFB) is generally considered to consist of three layers: fenestrated glomerular endothelium, glomerular basement membrane, and filtration slits between adjacent podocyte foot processes. Detailed anatomic examination of the GFB has revealed a novel abluminal structure, the subpodocyte space (SPS), identified as the labyrinthine space between the underside of podocyte cell body/primary processes and the foot processes. The SPS covers 50-65% of the filtration surface of the GFB, indicating that SPS may influence glomerular permeability. We have examined the contribution of the SPS to the permeability characteristics of the GFB using multiphoton microscopy techniques in isolated, perfused glomeruli and in the intact kidney in vivo. SPS were identified using this technique, with comparable dimensions to SPS examined with electron microscopy. The passage of the intermediate-weight molecule rhodamine-conjugated 10-kDa dextran, but not the low-weight molecule lucifer yellow ( approximately 450 Da), accumulated in SPS-covered regions of the GFB, compared with GFB regions not covered by SPS ("naked regions"). Net lucifer yellow flux (taken to indicate fluid flux) through identifiable SPS regions was calculated to be 66-75% of that occurring through naked regions. These observations indicate both ultrafiltration and hydraulic resistance imparted by the SPS, demonstrating the potential physiological contribution of the SPS to glomerular permeability.