Lymphatics are necessary for the generation and regulation of lymph flow. Lymphatics use phasic contractions and extrinsic compressions to generate flow; tonic contractions alter resistance. Lymphatic muscle exhibits important differences from typical vascular smooth muscle. In this study, the thoracic duct exhibited significant functional differences from mesenteric lymphatics. To understand the molecular basis for these differences, we examined the profiles of contractile proteins and their messages in mesenteric lymphatics, thoracic duct, and arterioles. Results demonstrated that mesenteric lymphatics express only SMB smooth muscle myosin heavy chain (SM-MHC), whereas thoracic duct and arterioles expressed both SMA and SMB isoforms. Both SM1 and SM2 isoforms of SM-MHC were detected in arterioles and mesenteric and thoracic lymphatics. In addition, the fetal cardiac/skeletal slow-twitch muscle-specific beta-MHC message was detected only in mesenteric lymphatics. All four actin messages, cardiac alpha-actin, vascular alpha-actin, enteric gamma-actin, and skeletal alpha-actin, were present in both mesenteric lymphatics and arterioles. However, in thoracic duct, predominantly cardiac alpha-actin and vascular alpha-actin were found. Western blot and immunohistochemical analyses corroborated the mRNA studies. However, in arterioles only vascular alpha-actin protein was detected. These data indicate that lymphatics display genotypic and phenotypic characteristics of vascular, cardiac, and visceral myocytes, which are needed to fulfill the unique roles of the lymphatic system.