Excess Lymphangiogenesis Cooperatively Induced by Macrophages and CD4(+) T Cells Drives the Pathogenesis of Lymphedema

J Invest Dermatol. 2016 Mar;136(3):706-714. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2015.12.001. Epub 2015 Dec 10.


Lymphedema is a debilitating progressive condition that severely restricts quality of life and is frequently observed after cancer surgery. The mechanism underlying lymphedema development remains poorly understood, and no effective pharmacological means to prevent or alleviate the ailment is currently available. Using a mouse model of lymphedema, we show here that excessive generation of immature lymphatic vessels is essential for initial edema development and that this early process is also important for later development of lymphedema pathology. We found that CD4(+) T cells interact with macrophages to promote lymphangiogenesis, and that both lymphangiogenesis and edema were greatly reduced in macrophage-depleted mice, lymphocyte-deficient Rag2(?/?) mice or CD4(+) T-cell-deficient mice. Mechanistically, T helper type 1 and T helper type 17 cells activate lesional macrophages to produce vascular endothelial growth factor-C, which promotes lymphangiogenesis, and inhibition of this mechanism suppressed not only early lymphangiogenesis, but also later development of lymphedema. Finally, we show that atorvastatin suppresses excessive lymphangiogenesis and lymphedema by inhibiting T helper type 1 and T helper type 17 cell activation. These results demonstrate that the interaction between CD4(+) T cells and macrophages is a potential therapeutic target for prevention of lymphedema after surgery.

Keywords: LECs; T helper; Th; VEGF; VEGF receptor 3; VEGFR3; lymphatic endothelial cells; vascular endothelial growth factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymphangiogenesis / physiology*
  • Lymphedema / immunology
  • Lymphedema / pathology*
  • Macrophages / cytology*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*


  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA Reductase Inhibitors
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A