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Purpose—In 2007 the two senior authors wrote a review on the structure and function of the endothelial glycocalyx layer (Weinbaum in Annu Rev Biomed Eng 9:121–167, 2007). Since then there has been an explosion of interest in this hydrated gel-like structure that coats the luminal surface of endothelial cells that line our vasculature due to its important functions in (A) basic vascular physiology and (B) vascular related diseases. This review will highlight the major advances that have occurred since our 2007 paper.

Methods—A literature search mainly focusing on the role of the glycocalyx in the two major areas described above was performed using electronic databases.

Results—In part (A) of this review, the new formulation of the century old Starling principle, now referred to as the Michel–Weinbaum glycoclayx model or revised Starling hypothesis, is described including new subtleties and physiological ramifications. New insights into mechanotransduction and release of nitric oxide due to fluid shear stress sensed by the glycocalyx are elaborated. Major advances in understanding the organization and function of glycocalyx components, and new techniques for measuring both its thickness and spatio-chemical organization based on super resolution, stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) are presented. As discussed in part (B) of this review, it is now recognized that artery wall stiffness associated with hypertension and aging induces glycocalyx degradation, endothelial dysfunction and vascular disease. In addition to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases, the glycocalyx plays an important role in lifestyle related diseases (e.g., diabetes) and cancer. Infectious diseases including sepsis, Dengue, Zika and Corona viruses, and malaria also involve the glycocalyx. Because of increasing recognition of the role of the glycocalyx in a wide range of diseases, there has been a vigorous search for methods to protect the glycocalyx from degradation or to enhance its synthesis in disease environments.

Conclusion—As we have seen in this review, many important developments in our basic understanding of GCX structure, function and role in diseases have been described since the 2007 paper. The future is wide open for continued GCX research.


This work was originally published in Cardiovascular Engineering and Technology, available at

This article is made available for unrestricted research re-use and secondary analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for the duration of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic.



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