The lymphatics can be considered an intercellular filter system.

The lymphatic system represents an accessory route by which fluids can flow from the interstitial spaces (open areas around the cells) into the blood. And, most important of all, the lymphatics can carry proteins and large particle matter away from the tissue spaces, neither of which can be removed by absorption directly into the blood capillaries.

The lymphatics can be considered an intercellular filter system.This removal of proteins from the interstitial spaces is an absolutely essential function, without which we would die within 24 hours.

There are two basic, but closely allied, types of acquired immunity (the ability of the body to develop extremely powerful specific immunity against individual invading agents such as lethal bacteria, viruses, toxins, etc.). In one of those the body develops circulating antibodies which are globulin molecules that are capable of attacking the invading agent. This type of immunity is called humoral immunity.

The second type of acquired immunity is achieved through the formation of large numbers of activated lymphocytes (white blood cells that are specifically designed to destroy the foreign agent). This type of immunity is called cell-mediated immunity. Both of these are formed in the lymphoid tissue of the body.

The lymphoid tissue is located most extensively in the lymph nodes, but it is also found in special lymphoid tissue such as that of the spleen, submucosal areas of the gastrointestinal tract, and the bone marrow.

The lymphoid tissue is distributed-area advantageous in the body to intercept the invading organisms or toxins before they can spread too widely. The lymphoid tissue in the lymph nodes is exposed to antigens (foreign substances) that invade the peripheral tissues of the body. And, finally, the lymphoid tissue of the spleen and bone marrow play the specific role of intercepting antigenic agents (xenobiotics, etc.) that have succeeded in reaching the circulating blood.

The lymphatic system is also one of the major routes for absorption of nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract, being responsible principally for the absorption of fats. Even large particles, such as bacteria, can push their way between the endothelial cells of the lymphatic capillaries and in this way enter the lymph. As the lymph passes through the lymph nodes, these particles are removed and destroyed.

Finally, an increase in tissue fluid protein increases the tissue fluid volume and, therefore, the rate of lymph flow. This washes the protein out of the tissue spaces, automatically returning the protein concentration to its normal low level.

The importance of this function of the lymphatics cannot be stressed too strongly, for there is no other route besides the lymphatics through which excess proteins can return to the circulatory system.

If it were not for this continual removal of proteins from the tissues, the dynamics of fluid exchange at the blood capillaries would become so abnormal that life would cease within a few hours.

 

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