Collecting lymphatic vessels share functional and biochemical characteristics with cardiac muscle; thus, we hypothesized that the lymphatic vessel pump would exhibit behavior analogous to homeometric regulation of the cardiac pump in its adaptation to elevated afterload, i.e., an increase in contractility. Single lymphangions containing two valves were isolated from the rat mesenteric microcirculation, cannulated, and pressurized for in vitro study. Pressures at either end of the lymphangion [input pressure (P(in)), preload; output pressure (P(out)), afterload] were set by a servo controller. Intralymphangion pressure (P(L)) was measured using a servo-null micropipette while internal diameter and valve positions were monitored using video methods. The responses to step- and ramp-wise increases in P(out) (at low, constant P(in)) were determined. P(L )and diameter data recorded during single contraction cycles were used to generate pressure-volume (P-V) relationships for the subsequent analysis of lymphangion pump behavior. Ramp-wise P(out) elevation led to progressive vessel constriction, a rise in end-systolic diameter, and an increase in contraction frequency. Step-wise P(out) elevation produced initial vessel distention followed by time-dependent declines in end-systolic and end-diastolic diameters. Significantly, a 30% leftward shift in the end-systolic P-V relationship accompanied an 84% increase in dP/dt after a step increase in P(out), consistent with an increase in contractility. Calculations of stroke work from the P-V loop area revealed that robust pumps produced net positive work to expel fluid throughout the entire afterload range, whereas weaker pumps exhibited progressively more negative work as gradual afterload elevation led to pump failure. We conclude that lymphatic muscle adapts to output pressure elevation with an intrinsic increase in contractility and that this compensatory mechanism facilitates the maintenance of lymph pump output in the face of edemagenic and/or gravitational loads.