Lymphatic vessels are well known to participate in the immune response by providing the structural and functional support for the delivery of antigens and antigen presenting cells to draining lymph nodes. Recent advances have improved our understanding of how the lymphatic system works and how it participates to the development of immune responses. New findings suggest that the lymphatic system may control the ultimate immune response through a number of ways which may include guiding antigen/dendritic cells (DC) entry into initial lymphatics at the periphery; promoting antigen/DC trafficking through afferent lymphatic vessels by actively facilitating lymph and cell movement; enabling antigen presentation in lymph nodes via a network of lymphatic endothelial cells and lymph node stroma cell and finally by direct lymphocytes exit from lymph nodes. The same mechanisms are likely also important to maintain peripheral tolerance. In this review we will discuss how the morphology and gene expression profile of the lymphatic endothelial cells in lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes provides a highly efficient pathway to initiate immune responses. The fundamental understanding of how lymphatic system participates in immune regulation will guide the research on lymphatic function in various diseases.
Keywords: Antigen delivery; Dendritic cell trafficking; Immune regulation; Lymph node; Lymphatic function.
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