Mannitol is commonly used as an intestinal permeability probe, yet the mechanisms of its penetration of the intestinal barrier are not entirely clear. Therefore, we studied mannitol's permeability of different segments of the intestine and studied the kinetics and influence of intraluminal factors on mannitol permeability in vivo in perfused intestinal segments of rats. There was linear relationship between permeability rate of mannitol and its luminal concentration (y = 7.2x + 1.7; r = 0.98), indicating that passive diffusion is involved in mannitol's permeability. Increased luminal fluid osmolarity from 0.3 to 0.6 osmol/liter resulted in decreased net water flux with a corresponding decrease in mannitol permeability in both jejunum and colon (P < 0.01), indicating the prominent influence of solvent drag on net mannitol permeability. The relationship between mannitol permeability and water absorption at different osmolarities was linear in the jejunum and colon. At luminal osmolarity of 0.3 osmol/liter, 34.6% of mannitol permeability was mediated by passive diffusion and 65.4% was mediated by solvent drag in the jejunum. Mannitol permeability was much more dependent on solvent drag in the colon (88.9%) than in the small intestine (65.4%). The net permeability rate of mannitol was similar in the jejunum and ileum but was much higher in the colon (P < 0.01). Addition of chenodeoxycholate (5 mM) to the perfusate resulted in a significant decrease in absorption of water (P < 0.01) with a corresponding decrease in mannitol permeability (P < 0.01). These studies indicate that mannitol permeability of the intestinal barrier is mediated by passive diffusion and solvent drag, with the latter accounting for a greater fraction of the total permeability.