Building the drains: the lymphatic vasculature in health and disease

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2016 Nov;5(6):689-710. doi: 10.1002/wdev.246. Epub 2016 Aug 30.


The lymphatic vasculature is comprised of a network of endothelial vessels found in close proximity to but separated from the blood vasculature. An essential tissue component of all vertebrates, lymphatics are responsible for the maintenance of fluid homeostasis, dissemination of immune cells, and lipid reabsorption under healthy conditions. When lymphatic vessels are impaired due to invasive surgery, genetic disorders, or parasitic infections, severe fluid build-up accumulates in the affected tissues causing a condition known as lymphedema. Malignant tumors can also directly activate lymphangiogenesis and use these vessels to promote the spread of metastatic cells. Although their first description goes back to the times of Hippocrates, with subsequent anatomical characterization at the beginning of the 20th-century, the lack of identifying molecular markers and tools to visualize these translucent vessels meant that investigation of lymphatic vessels fell well behind research of blood vessels. However, after years under the shadow of the blood vasculature, recent advances in imaging technologies and new genetic and molecular tools have accelerated the pace of research on lymphatic vessel development. These new tools have facilitated both work in classical mammalian models and the emergence of new powerful vertebrate models like zebrafish, quickly driving the field of lymphatic development back into the spotlight. In this review, we summarize the highlights of recent research on the development and function of the lymphatic vascular network in health and disease. WIREs Dev Biol 2016, 5:689-710. doi: 10.1002/wdev.246 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drainage
  • Humans
  • Lymphangiogenesis / physiology*
  • Lymphatic Diseases / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Vessels / embryology*
  • Lymphatic Vessels / pathology*