Mathematical modeling reveals kinetics of lymphocyte recirculation in the whole organism

PLoS Comput Biol. 2014 May 15;10(5):e1003586. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003586. eCollection 2014 May.


The kinetics of recirculation of naive lymphocytes in the body has important implications for the speed at which local infections are detected and controlled by immune responses. With a help of a novel mathematical model, we analyze experimental data on migration of 51Cr-labeled thoracic duct lymphocytes (TDLs) via major lymphoid and nonlymphoid tissues of rats in the absence of systemic antigenic stimulation. We show that at any point of time, 95% of lymphocytes in the blood travel via capillaries in the lung or sinusoids of the liver and only 5% migrate to secondary lymphoid tissues such as lymph nodes, Peyer's patches, or the spleen. Interestingly, our analysis suggests that lymphocytes travel via lung capillaries and liver sinusoids at an extremely rapid rate with the average residence time in these tissues being less than 1 minute. The model also predicts a relatively short average residence time of TDLs in the spleen (2.5 hours) and a longer average residence time of TDLs in major lymph nodes and Peyer's patches (10 hours). Surprisingly, we find that the average residence time of lymphocytes is similar in lymph nodes draining the skin (subcutaneous LNs) or the gut (mesenteric LNs) or in Peyer's patches. Applying our model to an additional dataset on lymphocyte migration via resting and antigen-stimulated lymph nodes we find that enlargement of antigen-stimulated lymph nodes occurs mainly due to increased entrance rate of TDLs into the nodes and not due to decreased exit rate as has been suggested in some studies. Taken together, our analysis for the first time provides a comprehensive, systems view of recirculation kinetics of thoracic duct lymphocytes in the whole organism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology*
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Lymphatic System / cytology*
  • Lymphatic System / physiology*
  • Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Models, Cardiovascular*
  • Rats

Grant support

This work was supported by the start-up funds from the University of Tennessee and in part by the grant from the American Heart Association (to VVG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.