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Keywords:

  • D2-40;
  • immunohistochemistry;
  • lung;
  • lymphatic vessels;
  • morphometric analysis

Abstract

In spite of their presumed relevance in maintaining interalveolar septal fluid homeostasis, the knowledge of the anatomy of human lung lymphatics is still incomplete. The recent discovery of reliable markers specific for lymphatic endothelium has led to the observation that, contrary to previous assumptions, human lymphatic vessels extend deep inside the pulmonary lobule in association with bronchioles, intralobular arterioles or small pulmonary veins. The aim of this study was to provide a morphometric characterization of lymphatic vessels in the periphery of the human lung. Human lung sections were immunolabelled with the lymphatic marker D2-40, followed by blood vessel staining with von Willebrand Factor. Lymphatic vessels were classified into: intralobular (including those associated with bronchovascular bundles, perivascular, peribronchiolar and interalveolar), pleural (in the connective tissue of the visceral pleura), and interlobular (in interlobular septa). The percentage area occupied by the lymphatic lumen was much greater in the interlobular septa and in the subpleural space than in the lobule. Most of the intralobular lymphatic vessels were in close contact with a blood vessel, either alone or within a bronchovascular bundle, whereas 7% were associated with a bronchiole and < 1% were not connected to blood vessels or bronchioles (interalveolar). Intralobular lymphatic size progressively decreased from bronchovascular through to peribronchiolar, perivascular and interalveolar lymphatics. Lymphatics associated with bronchovascular bundles had similar morphometric characteristics to pleural and interlobular lymphatics. Shape factors were similar across lymphatic populations, except that peribronchiolar lymphatics had a marginally increased roundness and circularity, suggesting a more regular shape due to increased filling, and interlobular lymphatics had greater elongation, due to a greater proportion of conducting lymphatics cut longitudinally. Unsupervised cluster analysis confirmed a marked heterogeneity of lymphatic vessels both within and between groups, with a cluster of smaller vessels specifically represented in perivascular and interalveolar lymphatics within the alveolar interstitium. Our data indicate that intralobular lymphatics are a heterogeneous population, including vessels surrounding the bronchovascular bundle analogous to the conducting vessels present in the pleural and interlobular septa, many small perivascular lymphatics responsible for maintaining fluid balance in the alveolar interstitium, and a minority of intermediate lymphatics draining the peripheral airways. These lymphatic populations could be differentially involved in the pathogenesis of diseases preferentially involving distinct lung compartments.