Using a well-established rodent model of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the present study examined changes in the microvasculature of the colonic mucosa in association with ulcerative colitis (UC). The results were compared to microscopic alterations in tissue morphology to establish a temporal relationship between microcirculatory dysfunction and IBD pathology. Mild colitis was induced in rats by the oral consumption of 5% dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) in drinking water. Control animals were provided with water ad libitum. After 3, 5, and 7 days of oral ingestion of DSS, anesthetized rats were laparotomized. The mucosal surface of the distal colon was then examined using fiber optic confocal imaging (FOCI; excitation 488 nm argon ion laser, detection above 515 nm). Changes in the mucosal architecture were examined following the topical application of the fluorescent dye, tetracycline hydrochloride. Tetracycline hydrochloride, an antibiotic used widely in clinical medicine, enabled imaging of the crypts at the surface of the mucosa. Spatial changes in the microvascular structure were assessed following the intravenous administration of fluorescein isothiocyanate dextran (FITC-dextran). Confocal images were correlated with clinical parameters, including weight loss, occult blood, and stool consistency. Attenuation of the colonic epithelium was detected on day 3 colitis. Morphological changes including crypt loss, crypt distortion, and inflammatory cell infiltrate were detected on day 5 and day 7 colitis. Dual channel imaging showed the mucosal capillary network outlining the stromal confines of the mucus-secreting glands in control tissue. Experimental colitis resulted in diffuse hypervascularity and tortuosity of the capillary vessels. Evidence of increased vessel leakiness (leakage of FITC-dextran from the lumen) was first detected on day 5 colitis. Complete disruption of the normal honeycomb pattern of the vessels and capillary dilation was evident after 7 days of DSS ingestion. These findings suggest that the pathogenesis of ulcerative colitis is associated with changes in the vascular architecture as demonstrated in vivo using confocal microscopy.