Study identifies potential target for treating disorder of the lymph vessels

Researchers have identified new cellular processes controlling the formation of the body’s lymphatic valves. The discovery could lead to new treatments for lymphedema, a condition marked by the build-up of fluid in soft body tissues, particularly in the arms or legs.

Lymphedema can be a debilitating condition that is marked by pain, thickened skin, disfigurement, and loss of mobility. It can be caused by infection, cancer, scar tissue from radiation therapy, or inherited conditions. While lymphedema can be managed with massage, compression devices, exercise, and other methods, no treatment currently exists to address its underlying cause, which is the build-up of lymph fluid in the tissue.

In the new study using a mouse model, researchers identified new cellular processes controlling development of the small valves inside lymphatic vessels. These valves prevent lymph fluid from flowing the wrong way back into tissues. The researchers found that targeting cell signaling pathways involved in creating and maintaining these lymphatic valves provides a promising target for treating the underlying cause of lymphedema. The study, funded by NHLBI, appeared in Cell Reports.