In bowel ischemia, impaired mucosal integrity may allow intestinal pancreatic enzyme products to become systemic and precipitate irreversible shock and death. This can be attenuated by pancreatic enzyme inhibition in the small-bowel lumen. It is unresolved, however, whether ischemically mediated mucosal disruption is the key event allowing pancreatic enzyme products systemic access and whether intestinal digestive enzyme activity in concert with increased mucosal permeability leads to shock in the absence of ischemia. To test this possibility, the small intestinal lumen of nonischemic rats was perfused for 2 h with either digestive enzymes, a mucin disruption strategy (i.e., mucolytics) designed to increase mucosal permeability, or both, and animals were observed for shock. Digestive enzymes perfused included trypsin, chymotrypsin, elastase, amylase, and lipase. Control (n = 6) and experimental animals perfused with pancreatic enzymes only (n = 6) or single enzymes (n = 3 for each of the five enzyme groups) maintained stable hemodynamics. After mucin disruption using a combination of enteral N-acetylcysteine, atropine, and increased flow rates, rats (n = 6) developed mild hypotension (P < 0.001 compared with groups perfused with pancreatic enzymes only after 90 min) and increased intestinal permeability to intralumenally perfused fluorescein isothiocyanate-dextran 20 kd (P < 0.05) compared with control and enzyme-only groups, but there were no deaths. All animals perfused with both digestive enzymes and subjected to mucin disruption (n = 6) developed hypotension and increased intestinal permeability (P < 0.001 after 90 min). Pancreatic enzymes were measured in the intestinal wall of both groups subjected to mucin disruption, but not in the enzyme-only or control groups. Depletion of plasma protease inhibitors was found only in animals perfused with pancreatic enzymes plus mucin disruption, implicating increased permeability and intralumenal pancreatic enzyme egress in this group. These experiments demonstrate that increased bowel permeability via mucin disruption in the presence of pancreatic enzymes can induce shock and increase systemic protease activation in the absence of ischemia, implicating bowel mucin disruption as a key event in early ischemia. Digestive enzymes and their products, if allowed to penetrate the gut wall, may trigger multiorgan failure and death.