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Popliteal Vascular Lymph Node Resection in the Rabbit Hindlimb for Secondary Lymphedema Induction

Published: November 30th, 2022



1Department of Microsurgery, Jesús Usón Minimally Invasive Surgery Centre, 2Department of Plastic Surgery, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Lymphedema is a common condition often associated with cancer and its treatment, which leads to damage to the lymphatic system, and current treatments are mostly palliative rather than curative. Its high incidence among oncologic patients indicates the need to study both normal lymphatic function and pathologic dysfunction. To reproduce chronic lymphedema, it is necessary to choose a suitable experimental animal. Attempts to establish animal models are limited by the regenerative capacity of the lymphatic system. Among the potential candidates, the rabbit hindlimb is easy to handle and extrapolate to the human clinical scenario, making it advantageous. In addition, the size of this species allows for better selection of lymphatic vessels for vascularized lymph node resection.

In this study, we present a procedure of vascular lymph node resection in the rabbit hindlimb for inducing secondary lymphedema. Anesthetized animals were subjected to circumferential measurement, patent blue V infiltration, and indocyanine green lymphography (ICG-L) using real-time near-infrared fluorescence, a technique that allows the identification of single popliteal nodes and lymphatic channels. Access to the identified structures is achieved by excising the popliteal node and ligating the medial and lateral afferent lymphatics. Special care must be taken to ensure that any lymphatic vessel that joins the femoral lymphatic system within the thigh without entering the popliteal node can be identified and ligated.

Postoperative evaluation was performed at 3, 6, and 12 months after induction using circumferential measurements of the hindlimb and ICG-L. As demonstrated during follow-up, the animals developed dermal backflow that was maintained until the 12th month, making this experimental animal useful for novel long-term evaluations in the management of lymphedema. In conclusion, the approach described here is feasible and reproducible. Additionally, during the time window presented, it can be representative of human lymphedema, thus providing a useful research tool.


Keywords Popliteal Vascular Lymph Node Resection

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