Background: The morphologic and histologic behavior of lymphatic vessels in lymphedema has not been well analyzed using laboratory animals. The purpose of the present study was to elucidate the regeneration process of lymphatic vessels after acute lymphedema in a rat model. Methods: The acute lymphedema was induced by an amputation and a replantation surgery on a rat hind limb. Recovery of lymphatic flow was traced using fluorescent lymphography with dye injection. The morphology and number of lymphatic vessels were immunohistochemically detected and quantified in both superficial and deep layers. Results: The swelling was the most severe, and the number of lymphatic vessels in the superficial layer was significantly and maximally increased on postoperative day 3. Backflows and overflows were also detectable in the superficial layer on postoperative day 3. The number of lymphatic vessels had decreased but remained significantly higher than that in the controls on postoperative day 14, when the swelling decreased to the levels in the controls. In contrast, the number of lymphatic vessels in the deep layer showed a tendency toward increased numbers; however, it was not statistically significant on postoperative day 3, 7, or 14. Conclusions: We have obtained solid evidence showing the differential potency of lymphatic vessels between the superficial and the deep layers after temporal lymphedematous induction. Further analysis of lymphedematous responses in animal models could provide new insights into the challenges associated with the clinical treatment of lymphedema.
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