BACKGROUND: Fat is widely used in soft tissue augmentation. Nevertheless, it has an unpredictably high resorption rate. Clinically, external expansion with negative pressure is used to increase fat graft survival. In this study, fat graft recipient sites were preconditioned by external application of negative pressure in order to test for improvements in vascularity and fat graft survival. METHODS: Negative pressure was applied randomly to either the left or right dorsal ear of 20 New Zealand male white rabbits at a pressure of -125 mm Hg. The negative pressure was removed one week after the skin perfusion was measured. The skin flap at each ear was elevated, and 1 g of fat was grafted above the dorsal perichondrium. After one week, the fat weight, microvessel density, mature vessel density of the skin and fat, and amount of glycerol released were measured. Three months after the grafting, the same measurements were performed, with the exception of glycerol release. RESULTS: The fat survival rate of the experimental group (75.4%+/-3.9%) was higher than that of the control group (53.1%+/-4.3%) (P<0.001). Skin perfusion was higher in the experimental group. The glycerol release in the experimental group was significantly higher than in the control. The microvessel density of the skin and fat was significantly higher in the experimental group. Three months after the grafting, the skin and fat mature vessel density was significantly higher in the experimental groups. CONCLUSIONS: Negative pressure prior to fat grafting increased the vascularity of the recipient site, and, accordingly, enhanced fat graft survival.