OBJECTIVE: Functional dyspepsia (FD) is an extremely common functional gastrointestinal disorder, the pathophysiology of which is poorly understood. We hypothesised that impaired intestinal barrier function is involved in the onset and persistence of this disorder by inducing low-grade inflammation. Therefore, our aim was to evaluate duodenal mucosal integrity and low-grade inflammation in patients with FD. DESIGN: Duodenal biopsy specimens were obtained from 15 patients with FD fulfilling the Rome III criteria and 15 age- and gender-matched healthy volunteers. Transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER) and paracellular permeability were measured in Ussing chambers. Expression of cell-to-cell adhesion proteins was evaluated by real-time PCR, western blot and/or immunofluorescence. Numbers of mast cells, eosinophils and intraepithelial lymphocytes were assessed by immunohistochemistry. RESULTS: Patients with FD displayed lower TEER and increased paracellular passage compared with healthy controls, which is indicative of impaired mucosal integrity. In addition, abnormal expression of cell-to-cell adhesion proteins at the level of tight junctions, adherens junctions and desmosomes was shown. Furthermore, patients were characterised by the presence of low-grade inflammation, as demonstrated by increased infiltration of mucosal mast cells and eosinophils. A significant association between the expression level of several cell-to-cell adhesion proteins, the extent of increased permeability and the severity of low-grade inflammation was found. CONCLUSIONS: These findings challenge the classical paradigm that patients with FD show no structural changes in the gastrointestinal tract. We suggest that impaired intestinal barrier function is a pathophysiological mechanism in FD. Thus, restoration of intestinal barrier integrity may be a potential therapeutic target for treating patients with FD.