Modulation of macromolecular permeability involves creation of venular leaks in response to receptor-operated mechanisms in the endothelial cell membrane elicited by various autacoids (histamine, serotonin, bradykinin). Reversible modulations may occur within seconds in response to specific agents, which indicates receptor-mediated events that act via the endothelial cells' contractile apparatus, leading to subtle changes in junctional microtopography and allowing faster passage of small solutes. This mechanism probably involves activation of the actin-myosin system in endothelial cells. Ca2+ is an important signal substance, as reflected in the permeability-increasing effect of calcium ionophores. The junctional control system may share functional similarities with the contractile system in various types of muscle cells, in particular, smooth muscle. This suggests a function for the extensive vesicular invaginations of the plasmalemmal membrane present in endothelial cells. Rather than being a system to carry macromolecules across the endothelium, its physiological role may be to regulate free cytosolic calcium concentration. It is reminiscent of similar membrane invaginations found in muscle cells. Thus intracellular free calcium may be regulated by a combination of energy-requiring extrusion and passive influx through receptor-operated calcium channels located in the invaginated vesicular membranes, with short diffusion distances to the actin-myosin filaments in the cytoplasm.