The permeability characteristics of biomaterials are critical parameters for a variety of implants. To analyse the permeability of membranes made from crosslinked ultrathin gelatin membranes and the transmigration of cells across the membranes, we combined three technical approaches: (1) a two-chamber-based permeability assay, (2) cell culturing with cytochemical analysis and (3) biochemical enzyme electrophoresis (zymography). Based on the diffusion of a coloured marker molecule in conjunction with photometric quantification, permeability data for a gelatin membrane were determined in the presence or absence of gelatin degrading fibroblasts. Cytochemical evaluation after cryosectioning of the membranes was used to ascertain whether fibroblasts had infiltrated the membrane inside. Zymography was used to investigate the potential release of proteases from fibroblasts, which are known to degrade collagen derivatives such as gelatin. Our data show that the diffusion equilibrium of a low molecular weight dye across the selected gelatin membrane is approached after about 6-8 h. Fibroblasts increase the permeability due to cavity formation in the membrane inside without penetrating the membrane for an extended time period (>21 days in vitro). Zymography indicates that cavity formation is most likely due to the secretion of matrix metalloproteinases. In summary, the combination of the depicted methods promises to facilitate a more rational development of biomaterials, because it provides a rapid means of determining permeability characteristics and bridges the gap between descriptive methodology and the mechanistic understanding of permeability alterations due to biological degradation.