The lymphatic system plays important roles in protein and solute transport as well as in the immune system. Its functionality is vital to proper homeostasis and fluid balance. Lymph may be propelled by intrinsic (active) vessel pumping or passive compression from external tissue movement. With regard to the former, nitric oxide (NO) is known to play an important role modulating lymphatic vessel contraction and vasodilation. Lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) are sensitive to shear, and increases in flow have been shown to cause enhanced production of NO by LECs. Additionally, high concentrations of NO have been experimentally observed in the sinus region of mesenteric lymphatic vessels. A computational flow and mass transfer model using physiologic geometries obtained from confocal images of a rat mesenteric lymphatic vessel was developed to determine the characteristics of NO transport in the lymphatic flow regime. Both steady and unsteady analyses were performed. Production of NO was shear-dependent; basal cases using constant production were also generated. Simulations revealed areas of flow stagnation adjacent to the valve leaflets, suggesting the high concentrations observed here experimentally are due to minimal convection in this region. LEC sensitivity to shear was found to alter the concentration of NO in the vessel, and the convective forces were found to profoundly affect the concentration of NO at a Péclet value greater than approximately 61. The quasisteady analysis was able to resolve wall shear stress within 0.15% of the unsteady case. However, the percent difference between unsteady and quasisteady conditions was higher for NO concentration (6.7%). We have shown high NO concentrations adjacent to the valve leaflets are most likely due to flow-mediated processes rather than differential production by shear-sensitive LECs. Additionally, this model supports experimental findings of shear-dependent production, since removing shear dependence resulted in concentrations that are physiologically counterintuitive. Understanding the transport mechanisms and flow regimes in the lymphatic vasculature could help in the development of therapeutics to treat lymphatic disorders.

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