The lymphatic capillary, like the blood-capillary, is the portion of the lymphatic system which is chiefly concerned in the specific function of this system. In the blood-capillaries, where the blood is separated from the outside tissues by a single layer of flat endothelial cells, there occurs the interchange of fluid substances and of cells, while the heart, arteries and veins serve to transport the blood, modified in the capillaries, to other parts of the body. Similarly in the lymphatic system, it is in the capillaries, both those most peripheral and those in the lymph nodes, where the absorption and interchange of fluid substances and of cells takes place. Consequently it becomes of prime importance to obtain a clear understanding of the structure of the lymphatic capillaries, their relation to the other tissues, and their mode of functioning. At the outset, however, it must be admitted that our knowledge on this subject is far from complete.
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Closely associated with the lymphatic capillaries and vessels is a group of glandular structures known as lymphoid organs. They consist, essentially, of groups of round lymphoid cells, lying in a meshwork of reticulum fibers, and having often a definite relationship to the blood or lymph vessels.
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Our knowledge of the lymphatic system has been very greatly increased during the past ten years by studies on its mode of development. Previous to 1902 nothing definite was known about the primary development or the mode of growth of the lymphatic system. It was concluded by some (Budge, Gullard and Saxer) that the lymphatics arise from undifferentiated mesenchyme cells; Ranvier believed that they arise from veins by budding of the endothelium; while Sala described them as arising partly from the mesenchyme and partly from venous endothelium.
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The lymph which enters the lymphatic capillaries passes over into collecting vessels (ducts), which carry it through the lymph-glands (nodes) to the large veins at the base of the neck. The lymph-vessels course in the loose subcutaneous tissues, in the connective tissues between muscles and organs, often accompanying the arteries and veins, sometimes forming networks around them. An idea of their arrangement can be best obtained by glancing at the illustrations of the lymphatics of special regions.
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