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Keywords:

  • lymphatic endothelium;
  • thoracic duct (TD);
  • small intestine;
  • 5′-nucleotidase (5′-Nase);
  • endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS);
  • lymphostasis

Abstract

The ultrastructure of endothelial cells of intestinal lymphatics and the thoracic duct (TD) and the relation to lymphostasis were examined in rats and monkeys. Localization of 5′-nucleotidase (5′-Nase) and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) was studied. In normal lymphatic endothelial cells, 5′-Nase reaction product was evenly deposited on the cell surface in vivo and on cultured TD endothelial cells (TDECs), whereas eNOS was evenly distributed throughout the nucleus and cytoplasm. TDECs had a long filamentous process extending towards the subendothelial extracellular matrix but became flat and regular within 30–40 minutes after gastric perfusion with olive oil. According to their electron-density, two types of cells were found in the TD endothelial layer. The cells with low electron-density exhibited stronger 5′-Nase activity. Valves were bicuspid formations and the valvular endothelial surface of the convex side showed weaker 5′-Nase activity than the concave side. During TD blockage-induced lymphostasis in rats, the 5′-Nase product was almost not discernible in the TDECs within 2 weeks. Larger vesicles were found in the endothelial cytoplasm of the ligated TD. Their number decreased after 6–12 weeks. The small intestinal lymphatics in the mucosa and submucosa were dilated, with numerous open intercellular junctions. The endothelial lining appeared to have reduced activities for 5′-Nase and eNOS in 9 of 11 experimental animals. The results indicated that the inability of the open intercellular junctions, normally working as one-way endothelial flap valves, may be a key morphological feature after TD blockage. Reduced eNOS and 5′-Nase may functionally influence contractile activity and transport capability of the lymphatic vessels in the lymphostasis. Microsc. Res. Tech. 55:70–80, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.