Background: Understanding the precise anatomy in experimental animals is crucial for correct design of research projects. Rats are commonly used for scientific research in plastic surgery because of their availability in academic institutions, moderate cost, and sizable vessels for microsurgical procedures. In past publications about rat anatomy, lymphatic mapping has been limited and incomplete. The aim of this study was to comprehensively map the superficial lymphatic system in the rat.
Methods: Twenty-seven Sprague-Dawley rats were used for this study. Indocyanine green fluorescence lymphography was used to identify the lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. Under general anaesthesia, indocyanine green was injected intradermally at multiple spots along the dorsal and medial midlines, front and hind paws, ears, and tail. The course of the lymphatic vessels was traced on the skin with a marker pen and photographed. The superficial lymphatic vessels in each rat were sketched on a graphic template and all of the templates were superimposed using graphics software to define the relationship between the lymphatic vessel and sentinel node.
Results: Indocyanine green fluorescence lymphography was able to demonstrate the superficial lymphatic vessels in the rat. Six groups of regional lymph node/s were identified and lymphatic pathways to those nodes delineated. The authors' lymphosome concept was successfully applied to the rat, with six lymphosomes identified.
Conclusions: The authors succeeded in performing superficial lymphatic mapping in the rat. The authors' anatomical findings can provide further information about the lymphatic system in the normal state and promote understanding of pathologic changes generated by surgical manipulation for future studies.