Previous studies have suggested that agonists may increase functionally perfused capillary volume by modulation of blood-excluding glycocalyx volume, but direct evidence for this association is lacking at the moment. Using intravital microscopic visualization of mouse cremaster muscle, we determined the effects of bradykinin (10-5 M) and sodium nitroprusside (10-6 M) on capillary tube haematocrit and glycocalyx barrier properties. In control C57Bl/6 mice (n = 10), tube haematocrit in capillaries (n = 71) increased (P < 0.05) from 8.7 ± 0.3% during baseline to 21.2 ± 1.2 and 22.2 ± 0.9% during superfusion with bradykinin and nitroprusside, respectively. In parallel, the exclusion zone of FITC-labelled 70 kDa dextrans decreased (P < 0.05) from 0.37 ± 0.01 μm during baseline to 0.17 ± 0.01 μm with bradykinin and 0.15 ± 0.01 μm with nitroprusside. Bradykinin and nitroprusside had no effect on dextran exclusion and tube haematocrit in capillaries (n = 55) of hyperlipidemic ApoE3-Leiden mice, which showed impaired exclusion of 70 kDa dextrans (0.05 ± 0.02 μm; P < 0.05 versus C57Bl/6) and increased capillary tube haematocrit (23 ± 0.8%; P < 0.05 versus C57Bl/6) under baseline conditions, indicating glycocalyx degradation. Our data show that vasodilator substances increase functionally perfused capillary volume and that this effect is associated with a reduction in glycocalyx exclusion of 70 kDa dextrans. Modulation of glycocalyx volume might represent a novel mechanism of perfusion control at the capillary level.