Tom Woodcock: The Revised Starling Principle and The Glycocalyx! #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

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So today, I had the chance of having a private tutorial with Dr. Thomas Woodcock (@thomaswoodcock) about the glycocalyx and the revised Starling principles.  For anyone interested in fluid resuscitation, this is an area you have to delve into. The basic principles we all learned (which are still being taught) are basically the physiological equivalent of the stick man we all started drawing as toddlers: overly simplified and far from an accurate representation of reality.

Now my first disclaimer is that I have been a colloid supporter for many years. My physiological logic for that had been to minimize the crystalloid spillover into inflamed/septic areas, particularly the lungs and abdomen, when those are the septic sources. However, I was likely misled by my education and lack of knowledge about the endothelium.

So I stumbled upon the whole glycocalyx thing a couple years ago, and this prompted me to try more enteral fluids – the only way fluids normally ever enter the vasculature – but little else. Aware that it’s there, but unsure what to do about it.

Now a year and a half ago, Andre Denault, my closest thing to a mentor, casually dropped the line to me about albumin not working. “Don’t use it. It doesn’t act the way we think it does.”  But it was a brief chat, and I didn’t get to pick his brain about it.  Just a few weeks ago, I discuss with Jon Emile (Kenny), and he’s coming to the same conclusion.  Damn. I’m finding it a bit harder to hang on to my albumin use, which is beginning to look a bit dogmatic and religious.

Here is Jon-Emile’s take on it – a must-read.

Here is Tom Woodcock’s site and article – another must-read.

And here is my discussion (in two parts) with Tom (to skip the silence, skip forward to about 30 seconds into each – sorry my editing skills are limited!)


Bottom line?

Probably stick to isotonic crystalloids, and some hypertonics.


Love to hear some thoughts!






The NYC Tracks with Jon-Emile: The Glycocalyx – The Next Frontier. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

I was really psyched when Jon-Emile mentioned he would like to talk about the glycocalyx.  I first blogged about it here, basically when I stumbled on the extensive literature on this huge organ we have been completely ignoring in terms of physiology and therapeutics. It lines our entire endothelium, which is where most of our therapeutic interventions go, and we only heard of it in passing, possibly in histology class as med 1’s.   Hmmm.  Anyhow, here, Jon-Emile and I talk about it a little, discuss possible clinical implications, but more importantly Jon mentions the relatively new blog of Dr. Thomas Woodcock (@thomaswoodcock),, who is one of the pioneer clinicians who have studied the glycocalyx, and who is now trying to bridge the bench to the bedside.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get in touch with him and we’re planning to record some discussions soon.

So, in my view, the glycocalyx is a formidable force we have been ignoring, and have been damaging often with our interventions. I’m hoping to see some developments allowing glycocalyx assessment outside of the labs in order to give us the tools to reassess every fluid in terms of the relative damage it does to what is essentially the gatekeeper between the blood and the tissues.

Love to hear some comments!

Here is the chat with Jon:





Salt water drowning…not just an environmental accident! Annals of Intensive Care 2014. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Paul for a few years as he has lectured at CCUS Symposia several times, and he is one of the few people I know who combine expertise, experience and a willingness – no, a passion – to think outside the box, challenge dogma and push the envelope of acute care.

In this month’s issue of the Annals of Intensive Care, Paul put together a great synthesis on fluid resuscitation, both the type and the quantity. It isn’t necessarily the kind of paper that gives you a cookie-cutter recipe on what to do, but rather the kind of paper that I really, really like: one that gives you a proper lens through which to see an issue, and a way to re-examine your therapeutic decisions.


Tying in the type of fluid to the glycocalyx, the author leads us down the path of physiological resuscitation, which is currently not being performed.  There is certainly much, much more to come on the topic in the next few years, and we have to be ready to possibly radically change our practice. For the better.

So I think this paper should be a cornerstone for any resuscitationist, whether or not you actually agree with everything Paul says.  If you don’t, then do come up with a rationale to justify what you like to do, and perhaps teach us all something along the way. Preferably, this rationale should be physiological, and possibly evidence-based, and should not include any of the following catch parses:

“well, it’s what everyone does,” “this is what we do at (prestigious) University…” “I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” “They call it normal saline for a reason you know (dismissive chuckle),” and “there’s no randomized trial…”  and on and on.  When I hear that, time to close the discussion.

Enjoy the article!


PS for awesome talks by amazing speakers (including Paul Marik!), don’t forget to register for CCUS 2015!!! For more info: and register at!





The Glycocalyx: an overview for the clinician. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

Ok, so I’d had a couple of glimpses at articles in the past few years which referred to the glycocalyx, but, in truth, I tend to read most of the “bench” studies a little, well…quickly.  So basically, when I listened to Paul’s (Marik) recent lecture at Scott’s (Weingart, New York Sepsis Collaborative, I started to dig a little…and whoa! And then of course, then now-famous expose by John (Doe?) on EmCrit continued to convince me that this is definitely something I need to pay attention to! Its not like there hasn’t already been a high level of scrutiny of the glycocalyx in the field of sepsis.  Google it. Its like a whole new world. It just hasn’t yet translated into an effective therapy, but nor has it seemed to spread into general awareness, and it seems like it’s high time it does, since it is the interface between the blood and the body – a “blood-body barrier” of sorts.

So here we go, a crash course on the glycocalyx for the clinician in the trenches…

The existence of an acellular layer lining the endothelium was described by Luft some 40 years ago (1), and in the last decade has come under scrutiny for its role in various pathophysiological states, which seems to be quite exhaustive. This has not yet translated into diagnostic or therapeutic interventions, but it seems its properties, or at least those we are currently aware of, should be kept in mind when we are faced with therapeutic choices given that some of these may have an effect on the glycocalyx.

Its existence was deduced due to the lower capillary hematocrit – meaning that the hematocrit in the capillaries, adjusted for the luminal volume, is lower than that of the large or medium vessels, implying an area where there are no red cells. This was confirmed by electron microscopy and found to be a gel-like epithelial lining which acts as an interface between the blood and the endothelial cells, of a thickness of about 0.5 um at the level of tha capillaries, and thicker in the larger vessels.

So what is it made of? Its is essentially a meshwork of glycoproteins and proteoglycans, anchored to the epithelial cells, in which many soluble molecules are enmeshed. It is important to note that there is a dynamic equilibrium between this layer and the adjacent flowing blood, which will affect the thickness and composition of the glycocalyx. The layer seems to be vulnerable to both enzymatic degradation as well as to shear forces, in variable degrees. Enzymatic removal of components seems to radically alter properties, pointing to a strong synergistic effect of the various components. It is a constantly shedding and regenerating structure.

glycocalyx em pic

EM view of the glycocalyx (reproduced with authors’ permission from Reitsma et al.)

glycocalix pic2

(reproduced with authors’ permission from Reitsma et al.)

Major components:

– Proteoglycans (protein core with chains of glycosaminoglycans) are the “backbone” of the glycocalyx, and consist of syndecans, glipicans, mimecan, perlecans and biglycans.

– Glycosaminoglycans (linear disaccharide polymers of a uronic acid and a hexosamine) are predominantly heparan sulfate (50-90%), then dermatan sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, keratan sulfate and hyaluronan (or hyaluronic acid).

– Glycoproteins are also part of the “backbone” structure and the main types are the endothelial cell adhesion molecules ( -cams, which are selectins, integrins and immunoglobulins) and components of the fibrin/coagulation system.  E- and P-selectins as well as others are involved in leukocyte-endothelial interaction and diapedesis, an important aspect of local inflammation.

– Soluble components are also embedded in the glycocalyx such as proteins and soluble proteoglycans and are important in preserving the charge of the layer and play critical roles in functionality.

Function of the glycocalyx (as far as we know…)

a. gatekeeper

It is a key determinant of vascular permeability. Partial enzymatic removal without damage to the endothelial cells themselves result in a radical change in permeability in aminal models. Charge, size and steric hindrance affect permeability. The glycocalyx has a highly net negative charge towards the bloodstream – neutralizing this induces an increase in cellular albumin uptake.

Weinbaum introduced a new model integrating the glycocalyx in the classical (but now outdated and disproven) Starling model of microvascular fluid exchange. The revised Starling principle stresses the importance of an intact glycocalyx.

Its role with cellular elements is interesting, as it contains key elements for interaction (-CAMs) but at the same time physically prevents direct interaction between cells (WBC, RBC, plt) and the endothelium. This clearly points to a pivotal role in controlling the interaction. Damage by various methods consistently shows increased neutrophil-endothelial interaction (often termed “leukocyte rolling”). It isn’t much of a stretch to see how the glycocalyx will thus be involved in the control of local inflammation.

b. mechanotransduction

The glycocalyx provides mechanical protection from shear stress to the endothelium.  Increased shear leads to upregulation of synthesis, and correspondingly, thicker glycocalyx is found in high shear areas.

c. microenvironment

Receptor binding, local growth and repair, and vasculoprotection. For instance, ATIII is bound to the glycocalyx (inhibits procoagulants), as well as superoxide dismutase, key in reducing oxidative stress and maintaining MO availability.

Clinical implications…

Now this is the real question.  I think that the first step is acknowledging the presence and importance of the glycocalyx, and trying to discern which of our interventions may have an impact.  It is quite clear that enzymes, cytokines and ischemia/reperfusion all damage the glycocalyx and result in increased cellular interaction and permeability. In a way this can explain the entire “SIRS” spectrum with diffuse damage resulting from an insult that may or may not be infectious in origin. Obviously, we know to avoid anything that might cause the above.

I think we can divide our interventions into two types:

a. those that inherently disrupt the glycocalyx –

b. those that secondarily disrupt it via another mediator – eg over-resuscitation and ANP/BNP (John’s “evil twins”) elevation causing breakdown.

Here are some interesting facts, in no particular order of importance:

a. in acute hyperglycemia and in type I diabetes, there is significant loss of glycocalyx volume.

Nieuwdorp M, van Haeften TW, Gouverneur MC, Mooij HL, van Lieshout MH, Levi M, Meijers JC, Holleman F, Hoekstra JB, Vink H, Kastelein JJ, Stroes ES (2006) Loss of endothelial glycocalyx during acute hyperglycemia coincides with endothelial dysfunction and coagulation activation in vivo. Diabetes 55:480–486.

Nieuwdorp M, Mooij HL, Kroon J, Atasever B, Spaan JA, Ince C, Holleman F, Diamant M, Heine RJ, Hoekstra JB, Kastelein JJ, Stroes ES, Vink H (2006) Endothelial glycocalyx damage coincides with microalbuminuria in type 1 diabetes. Diabetes 55:1127–1132

b. high fat/high cholesterol diet and high LDL levels disrupt the glycocalyx. The co-infusion of superoxide dysmutase and catalase with ox-LDL abolishes the glycocalyx shedding found with ox-LDL infusion only. (not exactly a big surprise, but certainly brings up a therapeutic possibility in acute coronary events, especially NSTEMIs…)

Vink H, Constantinescu AA, Spaan JA (2000) Oxidized lipoproteins degrade the endothelial surface layer: implications for platelet–endothelial cell adhesion. Circulation 101:1500–1502

van den Berg BM, Spaan JA, Rolf TM, Vink H (2006) Atherogenic region and diet diminish glycocalyx dimension and increase intima-to-media ratios at murine carotid artery bifurcation. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 290:H915–H920

c. hydrocortisone and antithrombin prevent TNF-a induced shedding of the glycocalyx. (we never really knew how steroids help in sepsis; ATIII trials failed, but were they designed with glycocalyx-sparing in mind…?)

Daniel Chappell MD, Klaus Hofmann-Kiefer, Matthias Jacob, Markus Rehm, Josef Briegel, Ulrich Welsch, Peter Conzen, Bernhard F. Becker TNF-α induced shedding of the endothelial glycocalyx is prevented by hydrocortisone and antithrombin Basic Research in Cardiology, January 2009, Volume 104, Issue 1, pp 78-89

 d. endotoxemia damages the pulmonary vascular endothelium and results in ALI (now the neutrophils can attach and activate inflammation…)

Eric P Schmidt, Yimu Yang, William J Janssen, Aneta Gandjeva, Mario J Perez, Lea Barthel, Rachel L Zemans, Joel C Bowman, Dan E Koyanagi, Zulma X Yunt, Lynelle P Smith, Sara S Cheng, Katherine H Overdier, Kathy R Thompson, Mark W Geraci, Ivor S Douglas, David B Pearse & Rubin M Tuder The pulmonary endothelial glycocalyx regulates neutrophil adhesion and lung injury during experimental sepsis, Nature Medicine 18,1217–1223 (2012)

e. sepsis and major abdominal surgery damage the glycocalyx (a good example of common pathway pathophysiology…)

Jochen Steppan, M.D., Stefan Hofer, M.D., Benjamin Funke, M.D., Thorsten Brenner, M.D., Michael Henrich, M.D., Ph.D., Eike Martin, M.D.,Jürgen Weitz, M.D., Ursula Hofmann, M.D., Markus A. Weigand, M.D.Sepsis and Major Abdominal Surgery Lead to Flaking of the Endothelial Glycocalix Journal of Surgical Research Volume 165, Issue 1 ,Pages 136-141, January 2011

f. molecules (eg Slit2N,  good old aPC) that enhance or preserve barrier function have shown some success in animal models. (the key might be to using a bunch of them at once, not one of them vs placebo)

N. R. London, W. Zhu, F. A. Bozza, M. C. Smith, D. M. Greif, L. K. Sorensen, L. Chen, Y. Kaminoh, A. C. Chan, S. F. Passi, C. W. Day, D. L. Barnard, G. A. Zimmerman, M. A. Krasnow, D. Y. Li, Targeting Robo4-dependent Slit signaling to survive the cytokine storm in sepsis and infl uenza. Sci. Transl. Med. 2, 23ra19 (2010).

…and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Seriously, google it…


For now, it is difficult to make any hard recommendations, but it has certainly made me pause to regroup and re-strategize. I think the critical thing is to reframe our thinking and redesign our approach to be a glycocalyx-sparing therapy.

In sepsis therapy, so many molecules have failed, but little emphasis so far has been on targeting the glycocalyx, and in all likelihood, the key is not in finding the “magic bullet” but rather using multiple interventions to bolster it. One could think of this as the sepsis “chain-of-survival”, and now that we can see the complexity of the glycocalyx, it is easy to understand how no one therapy, even if it did do its job, would succeed in preventing the degradation of the other links in the chain, and fail.  In all likelihood, a successful strategy will probably involve the following:

1. fancy molecules to prevent glycocalyx damage.

2. fluid choices which are glycocalyx-friendly.

3. fluid in just the right amount (not by macro/volume-responsiveness but by micro/glycocalyx management).

4. rapid diagnosis/abx/source control, etc, all the good stuff we know about.

5. preventing hyperglycemia.

A trial like that would be a monumental undertaking. I can only hope someone does it.

My next step, as a guy in the bedside trenches and not at the bench, after gaining a modicum of understanding on the topic, will be to delve deeper into the effects of currently available fluids on the glycocalyx.  Look for a post on that in the next weeks.  As a starter, everyone should review Woodcock & Woodcock’s excellent clinical review.

And if anyone has any amazing information to share, please do!!! That’s what #FOAMed is for!!!

Suggested viewing/reading:

Woodcock and Woodcock, BJA 2012,

Broken Barriers: A New Take on Sepsis Pathogenesis Neil M. Goldenberg,1* Benjamin E. Steinberg,1* Arthur S. Slutsky,2,3,4 Warren L. Lee2,4 Science Translational Medicine, 22 June 2011 Vol 3 Issue 88 88ps25

Click to access Science_Translational_Medicine_2011_Pathogenesis_of_Sepsis.pdf

a great article on understanding the glycocalyx in sepsis by a U of T gang!


all must-listen/watch material!

other refs.

Luft JH (1966) Fine structures of capillary and endocapillary layer as revealed by ruthenium red. Fed Proc 25:1773-1783

Reitsma et al, The endothelial glycocalyx: composition, functions, and visualization, Eur J Physiol (2007) 454:345–359

Zhang X, Adamson RH, Curry FR, Weinbaum S (2006) A 1-D model to explore the effects of tissue loading and tissue concentration gradients in the revised Starling principle. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol 291:H2950–H2964