Physical forces, including mechanical stretch, fluid pressure and shear forces alter lymphatic vessel contractions and lymph flow. Gravitational forces can affect these forces, resulting in altered lymphatic transport, but the mechanisms involved have not been studied in detail. Here, we combine a lattice Boltzmann-based fluid dynamics computational model with known lymphatic mechanobiological mechanisms to investigate the movement of fluid through a lymphatic vessel under the effects of gravity that may either oppose or assist flow. Regularly spaced, mechanical bi-leaflet valves in the vessel enforce net positive flow as the vessel walls contract autonomously in response to calcium and nitric oxide (NO) levels regulated by vessel stretch and shear stress levels. We find that large gravitational forces opposing flow can stall the contractions, leading to no net flow, but transient mechanical perturbations can reestablish pumping. In the case of gravity strongly assisting flow, the contractions also cease due to high shear stress and NO production, which dilates the vessel to allow gravity-driven flow. In the intermediate range of oppositional gravity forces, the vessel actively contracts to offset nominal gravity levels or to modestly assist the favorable hydrostatic pressure gradients.
Huabing Li, Huajian Wei, Timothy P Padera, James W Baish, Lance L Munn, Computational simulations of the effects of gravity on lymphatic transport, PNAS Nexus, Volume 1, Issue 5, November 2022, pgac237, https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac237