BACKGROUND:: Radiotherapy is important in the management of pelvic malignancies, but radiation-induced intestinal damage is a dose-limiting factor. Microvascular injury and epithelial barrier dysfunction are considered to be rate-limiting aspects in radiation-induced enteropathy. This study investigated the role of Rho kinase signalling in radiation-induced inflammation and intestinal barrier dysfunction. METHODS:: The specific Rho kinase inhibitor Y-27632 (1 and 10 mg/kg) was given to C57BL/6J mice before challenge with 20 Gy radiation. Leucocyte- and platelet-endothelium interactions in the colonic microcirculation were assessed by intravital microscopy. Levels of myeloperoxidase (MPO) and CXC chemokines (macrophage inflammatory protein 2 and cytokine-induced neutrophil chemoattractant), and intestinal leakage were quantified after 16 h. RESULTS:: Radiation increased leucocyte and platelet recruitment, MPO activity, CXC chemokine production and intestinal leakage. Y-27632 significantly reduced radiation-induced leucocyte rolling and abolished adhesion; it also decreased platelet rolling and adhesion by 55 and 74 per cent respectively (P < 0·050). Inhibition of Rho kinase signalling significantly decreased radiation-provoked formation of CXC chemokines, MPO activity by 52 per cent, and intestinal leakage by 67 per cent (P < 0·050). CONCLUSION:: Rho kinase activity constitutes an important signalling mechanism in radiation-induced inflammation and intestinal barrier dysfunction. Copyright © 2010 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.