The distribution of fluorescein isothiocyanate dextran 70,000 (FITC-dextran) and mucous gel across the lumen of small intestine was observed as an investigation into the role of mucous gel on permeability in total parenteral nutrition (TPN). Thirty-two rats were randomly divided into two groups fed with either TPN or oral rat food. On day 4 or 7, FITC-dextran (750 mg/kg body weight) was given through the gastroduodenal tube. After 1 hour, blood samples were taken by aortic puncture to analyze plasma FITC-dextran by fluorescence spectrometry. Samples of small intestine with luminal contents were frozen and sectioned in a cryostat for fluorescence microscopy; the same sections were placed in a 0.2% celloidin solution for 3 minutes to preserve mucous gel and stained by periodic acid-Schiff reaction for light microscopy. The plasma level of FITC-dextran after 1 hour of this marker injection showed a significant increase (p < .01) in the TPN group compared with the rat food group on days 4 and 7. Morphologic findings on days 4 and 7 were similar in both the jejunum and ileum: The mucous gel filled the spaces between villi and FITC-dextran centered in the lumen in the rat food group, whereas the mucous gel decreased and FITC-dextran filled the spaces between villi in the TPN group. FITC-dextran and mucous gel showed complementary distributions in both groups. These data suggest that TPN decreases luminal mucous gel and increases permeability of small intestine in rats.