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FASEB J. 2001 Aug;15(10):1711-7.

Evidence for a second valve system in lymphatics: endothelial microvalves.

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  • 1Department of Bioengineering, The Whitaker Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0412, USA.


The mechanism for interstitial fluid uptake into the lymphatics remains speculative and unresolved. A system of intralymphatic valves exists that prevents reflow along the length of the lymphatic channels. However, these valves are not sufficient to provide unidirectional flow at the level of the initial lymphatics. We investigate here the hypothesis that initial lymphatics have a second, separate valve system that permits fluid to enter from the interstitium into the initial lymph channels but prevents escape back out into the tissue. The transport of fluorescent microspheres (0.31 microm) across endothelium of initial lymphatics in rat cremaster muscle was investigated with micropipette manipulation techniques. The results indicate that microspheres can readily pass from the interstitium across the endothelium into the lumen of the initial lymphatics. Once inside the lymphatic lumen, the microspheres cannot be forced out of the lumen even after elevation of the lymphatic pressure by outflow obstruction. Reaspiration of the microspheres inside the lymphatic lumen with a micropipette is blocked by the lymphatic endothelium. This blockade exists whether the aspiration is carried out at the microsphere entry site or anywhere along the initial lymphatics. Nevertheless, puncture of the initial lymphatic endothelium with the micropipette leads to rapid aspiration of intralymphatic microspheres. Investigation of lymphatic endothelial sections fixed during lymph pumping shows open interendothelial junctions not found in resting initial lymphatics. These results suggest that initial lymphatics have a (primary) valve system at the level of the endothelium. In conjunction with the classical (secondary) intralymphatic valves, the primary valves provide the mechanism that facilitates the unidirectional flow during periodic compression and expansion of initial lymphatics.

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