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18.1: Structure of the Lymphatic System

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    The lymphatic vessels begin as open-ended capillaries, which feed into larger and larger lymphatic vessels, and eventually empty into the bloodstream by a series of ducts. Along the way, the lymph travels through the lymph nodes, which are commonly found near the groin, armpits, neck, chest, and abdomen. Humans have about 500– 600 lymph nodes throughout the body (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    The left panel shows a female human body, and the entire lymphatic system is shown. The right panel shows magnified images of the thymus and the lymph node. All the major parts in the lymphatic system are labeled.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Anatomy of the Lymphatic System Lymphatic vessels in the arms and legs convey lymph to the larger lymphatic vessels in the torso.  (CC-BY-4.0, OpenStax, Human Anatomy)

     

    Lymphatic Capillaries

    Lymphatic capillaries, also called the terminal lymphatics, are vessels where interstitial fluid enters the lymphatic system to become lymph fluid. Located in almost every tissue in the body, these vessels are interlaced among the arterioles and venules of the circulatory system in the soft connective tissues of the body (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

    This image shows the lymph capillaries in the tissue spaces, and a magnified image shows the interstitial fluid and the lymph vessels. The major parts are labeled.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Lymphatic Capillaries Lymphatic capillaries are interlaced with the arterioles and venules of the cardiovascular system. Collagen fibers anchor a lymphatic capillary in the tissue (inset). Interstitial fluid slips through spaces between the overlapping endothelial cells that compose the lymphatic capillary.  (CC-BY-4.0, OpenStax, Human Anatomy)

     

    Larger Lymphatic Vessels, Trunks, and Ducts

    The lymphatic capillaries empty into larger lymphatic vessels, which are similar to veins in terms of their three- tunic structure and the presence of valves. These one-way valves are located fairly close to one another, and each one causes a bulge in the lymphatic vessel, giving the vessels a beaded appearance (see Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

    The superficial and deep lymphatics eventually merge to form larger lymphatic vessels known as lymphatic trunks. On the right side of the body, the right sides of the head, thorax, and right upper limb drain lymph fluid into the right subclavian vein via the right lymphatic duct (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)). On the left side of the body, the remaining portions of the body drain into the larger thoracic duct, which drains into the left subclavian vein. The thoracic duct itself begins just beneath the diaphragm in the cisterna chyli, a sac-like chamber that receives lymph from the lower abdomen, pelvis, and lower limbs by way of the left and right lumbar trunks and the intestinal trunk.

    The overall drainage system of the body is asymmetrical (see Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)). The right lymphatic duct receives lymph from only the upper right side of the body. The lymph from the rest of the body enters the bloodstream through the thoracic duct via all the remaining lymphatic trunks. In general, lymphatic vessels of the subcutaneous tissues of the skin, that is, the superficial lymphatics, follow the same routes as veins, whereas the deep lymphatic vessels of the viscera generally follow the paths of arteries.

    This figure shows the lymphatic trunks and the duct system in the human body. Callouts to the left and right show the magnified views of the left and right jugular vein respectively.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): CoMajor Trunks and Ducts of the Lymphatic System The thoracic duct drains a much larger portion of the body than does the right lymphatic duct.  (CC-BY-4.0, OpenStax, Human Anatomy)

     


    This page titled 18.1: Structure of the Lymphatic System is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by OpenStax.

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