Purpose: To identify lymphatic vessels in the human orbit.
Methods: Lymphatic and blood capillaries were distinguished histochemically by light microscopy using a 5'-nucleotidase (5'-Nase) and alkaline phosphatase (ALPase) double staining method. Identification of lymphatic vessels was based on strict morphologic criteria combined with specific 5'-Nase staining.
Results: The presence of conjunctival lymphatics was confirmed and used as a control tissue. Lymphatic vessels were identified in the lacrimal gland and in the dura mater of the optic nerve. Structures demonstrating positive 5'-Nase staining at the orbital apex were highly suggestive of lymphatics but did not meet the morphologic criteria established. Lymphatic vessels were not identified in the extraocular muscles or orbital fat.
Conclusion: To the authors' knowledge, this study presents the first evidence for lymphatic capillaries in the dura mater of the human optic nerve and lacrimal gland.