Fibrosis worsens chronic lymphedema in rodent tissues

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© 2015 the American Physiological Society. Secondary lymphedema in humans is a common consequence of lymph node dissection (LND) to treat breast cancer. A peculiar characteristic of the disease is that lifelong swelling often precipitously appears several years after the surgical treatment, often due to an inflammatory stimulus. Although the incidence of secondary lymphedema dramatically increases after radiation therapy, the relationship between fibrotic scarring and the eventual appearance of lymphedema remains unclear. To clarify the role of fibrosis in secondary lymphedema initiation, we chemically increased fibrosis in rodent tissues with bleomycin and assessed the ability of the local lymphatic system to prevent lymphedema, either acutely or in a chronic state induced by inflammation. We found that bleomycin injections exacerbated fibrotic matrix deposition in an acute mouse tail lymphedema model (P < 0.005), reduced wound closure (P < 0.005), and impaired the ability of tail lymphatics to regenerate (P < 0.005) and reduce the swelling (P < 0.05). When fibrosis was worsened with bleomycin after axillary LND in the rat foreleg, the ability of the foreleg lymphatic system to reduce the chronic state swelling induced by stimulated inflammation was severely impaired (P < 0.005). Indocyanine green lymphography in axillary LNDrecovered rat forelegs revealed a worsened lymphatic drainage due to inflammation and bleomycin pretreatment. Although inflammation reduced the drainage of dextran fluid tracer from control forelegs (P < 0.05), the reduction in fluid drainage was more severe after axillary LND when fibrosis was first increased (P < 0.005). These findings demonstrate that fibrosis reduces the lymphatic capacity to functionally regenerate and prevent the chronic appearance of lymphedema.

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American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology