Lymphatic contractile function: a comprehensive review of drug effects and potential clinical application

Cardiovasc Res. 2022 Aug 24;118(11):2437-2457. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvab279.


The lymphatic system and the cardiovascular (CV) system work together to maintain body fluid homeostasis. Despite that, the lymphatic system has been relatively neglected as a potential drug target and a source of adverse effects from CV drugs. Like the heart, the lymphatic vessels undergo phasic contractions to promote lymph flow against a pressure gradient. Dysfunction or failure of the lymphatic pump results in fluid imbalance and tissue oedema. While this can be due to drug effects, it is also a feature of breast cancer-associated lymphoedema, chronic venous insufficiency, congestive heart failure, and acute systemic inflammation. There are currently no specific drug treatments for lymphatic pump dysfunction in clinical use despite the wealth of data from pre-clinical studies. The aim of this study was to identify (i) drugs with direct effects on lymphatic tonic and phasic contractions with potential for clinical application, and (ii) drugs in current clinical use that have a positive or negative side effect on lymphatic function. We comprehensively reviewed all studies that tested the direct effect of a drug on the contractile function of lymphatic vessels. Of the 208 drugs identified from 193 studies, about a quarter had only stimulatory effects on lymphatic tone, contraction frequency, and/or contraction amplitude. Of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, there were 14 that increased lymphatic phasic contractile function. The most frequently used class of drugs with inhibitory effects on lymphatic pump function were the calcium channels blockers. This review highlights the opportunity for specific drug treatments of lymphatic dysfunction in various disease states and for avoiding adverse drug effects on lymphatic contractile function.

Keywords: Contractile function; Drug; Lymphatic; Vessel.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calcium Channel Blockers / pharmacology
  • Lymphatic System*
  • Lymphatic Vessels*
  • Muscle Contraction


  • Calcium Channel Blockers