Structure and Function of Lymphatic System


Presented by Miikka Vikkula, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Human Molecular Genetics, de Duve Institute, University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium, at the LGDA Patient & Family Conference, 27 July 2018.

Abstract: The circulatory system consists of two highly-branched tubular structures: the blood vessels and the lymphatic vessels. These systems are essential for the transport of fluids, gas, molecules and cells to and from different organs, and for tissue fluid homeostasis.

The lymphatic system consists of lymphatic vessels and lymphatic organs, such as lymph nodes, tonsils and Peyer’s patches. The lymphatic vessels form a blind-ended one-way closed circuit that acts as a drainage system to collect fluid, cells, and plasma proteins from tissues to return them back to the blood circulation. It has an essential role in the maintenance of fluid homeostasis, as well as immune surveillance and fat adsorption.

The main processes through which the lymphatic network is developed is called lymphangiogenesis. The first theory for venous origin of the lymphatic vasculature was suggested a century ago by Florence Sabin. With the advent of lymphatic markers, our understanding of the precise manner by which the lymphatic system develops has increased importantly. Studies of murine models presenting lymphatic vascular defects have identified several genes implicated in the development of the lymphatic vascular system. This has also shed light into the pathogenesis of lymphatic disorders.

In Part 1 of his presentation, Prof. Vikkula reviews the structure and functions of the lymphatic system:

In Part 2 of his presentation, Prof. Vikkula discusses some of what is known of signaling pathways and genetics of lymphatic anomalies:


About the Presenter


Miikka Vikkula, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor of Human Molecular Genetics, de Duve Institute, University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium

Center for Vascular Anomalies, Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc, Brussels, Belgium

Walloon Excellence in Lifesciences and Biotechnology (WELBIO), de Duve Institute, University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium

Prof. Vikkula obtained his M.D. at the University of Helsinki in 1992 and his Ph.D. in molecular genetics in 1993. He was a Research Associate at Harvard Medical School 1993-1997, during which time he became interested in vascular and lymphatic anomalies. With his wife, Prof. Laurence Boon, Plastic Surgeon, Coordinator of the Vascular Anomaly Center, Brussels, the couple discovered the gene for familial venous malformation in 1996, and since then many others. They settled in Brussels in 1997, where Dr. Vikkula developed his own laboratory. He obtained a “docentship PhD” in 2000, and was nominated Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Medicine in UCL. He is a member of the Directorate of the de Duve Institute since 2004, and a full professor of Human Genetics since 2013. He has received numerous honors and awards; most recently, the Inbev-Baillet Latour Clinical Prize in 2013. He is a Member of the Royal Belgian Academy of Medicine since 2012.

Prof. Vikkula is well known internationally as a major contributor to the understanding of molecular basis of vascular anomalies and lymphedema with more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and numerous chapters in major bio-medical text books.

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