The glycocalyx: a central regulator of vascular function

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2021 Apr 1;320(4):R508-R518. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00340.2020. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


The endothelial glycocalyx is a specialized extracellular matrix that covers the apical side of vascular endothelial cells, projecting into the lumen of blood vessels. The composition of the glycocalyx has been studied in great detail, and it is known to be composed of a mixture of proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, and glycoproteins. Although this structure was once believed to be a passive physical barrier, it is now recognized as a multifunctional and dynamic structure that participates in many vascular processes, including but not limited to vascular permeability, inflammation, thrombosis, mechanotransduction, and cytokine signaling. Because of its participation in many physiological and pathophysiological states, comprehensive knowledge of the glycocalyx will aid future vascular biologists in their research. With that in mind, this review discusses the biochemical structure of the glycocalyx and its function in many vascular physiological processes. We also briefly review a more recent discovery in glycocalyx biology, the placental glycocalyx.

Keywords: extracellular matrix; glycocalyx; vascular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / metabolism*
  • Blood Vessels / pathology
  • Blood Vessels / physiopathology
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Endothelial Cells / pathology
  • Female
  • Glycocalyx / metabolism*
  • Glycocalyx / pathology
  • Humans
  • Permeability
  • Placenta / blood supply*
  • Placental Circulation
  • Pregnancy
  • Signal Transduction