Share this article on:

Use of Indocyanine Green Fluorescent Lymphography for Evaluating Dynamic Lymphatic Status

Suami, Hiroo M.D., Ph.D.; Chang, David W. M.D.; Yamada, Kiyoshi M.D.; Kimata, Yoshihiro M.D.

Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery: March 2011 - Volume 127 - Issue 3 - pp 74e-76e
doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e3182063639

Department of Plastic Surgery, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas (Suami, Chang)

Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Okayama University, Okayama, Japan (Yamada, Kimata)

Correspondence to Dr. Suami, Department of Plastic Surgery, Unit 443, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77030-4009,

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text; simply type the URL address into any Web browser to access this content. Clickable links to the material are provided in the HTML text of this article on the Journal's Web site (

Back to Top | Article Outline


Figure. No caption a...

Visualization of the lymphatic system is a challenging problem. Recently, an indocyanine green fluorescent lymphography system was developed for visualizing the lymphatic vessels.1–3 Indocyanine green is a water-soluble compound, and it has been widely used for assessing cardiac output, hepatic function, and ophthalmic angiography. Indocyanine green emits energy in the near-infrared region between 750 and 810 nm when it is bound to protein in the tissue. This feature is advantageous for investigating deep tissue structures.

We used an indocyanine green fluorescent lymphangiography system (Photodynamic Eye; Hamamatsu Photonics K.K., Hamamatsu, Japan) composed of a camera unit, near-infrared–emitting diodes, and a controller unit that operates the camera. The charge-coupled device camera has a fixed focus ranging from 15 to 25 cm, which allows investigation of a 10 × 10-cm field with one image. The system can detect anatomical structures by detecting near-infrared radiation in the tissue at a depth of approximately 10 mm from the surface.

The lymphatic anatomy in the upper extremity was investigated using indocyanine green fluorescent lymphography in three healthy volunteers without any medical history of vascular disease or lymphedema. Indocyanine green (0.01 to 0.02 ml) was injected into each finger web intradermally. After a few minutes, fluorescent images of lymphatic vessels emerged at the dorsal hand and ran longitudinally toward the proximal arm (Fig. 1). (See Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, which demonstrates indocyanine green fluorescent lymphography in a healthy limb, They ascended in the posterior forearm and then gradually changed direction toward the medial side of the upper arm en route to the axilla. The flow was facilitated by spontaneous muscle movement and squeezing the vessel from the outside.

We used indocyanine green fluorescent lymphography in three patients with breast cancer–related lymphedema under general anesthesia before a lymphaticovenular shunt operation. Indocyanine green was injected intradermally into the finger webs and at three locations at the volar side of the wrist. Soon after the injections, fluorescent stains were identified proximal to the injection sites. The lymphatic vessels could be identified at the dorsal hand, but a patchy reticular honeycomb-like structure could be seen in the forearm instead of the linear structure seen in the healthy volunteers without lymphedema (Fig. 2). (See Video, Supplemental Digital Content 2, which demonstrates indocyanine green fluorescent lymphography in a lymphedematous limb, In two cases, one or two collecting lymphatic vessels could be identified at the medial elbow region. Skin incisions (approximately 2 to 3 cm) were made at these identified sites, and prominent and patent lymphatic vessels were found. Surgical findings and image data were concurrent with high accuracy.

We demonstrated the differences in the anatomy of the lymphatic system between healthy upper limbs and lymphedematous limbs. We observed the reticular structures only in the lymphedematous limbs. These findings are similar to the “dermal backflow” sign observed in lymphangiography and lymphoscintigraphy.4,5

Using this indocyanine green system, an incision can be made precisely over the collecting lymphatic vessels. This allows for the prompt identification of the functional lymphatic vessels and has the potential to significantly improve the outcomes of lymphovenous shunt operations.

Hiroo Suami, M.D., Ph.D.

David W. Chang, M.D.

Department of Plastic Surgery

University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

Houston, Texas

Kiyoshi Yamada, M.D.

Yoshihiro Kimata, M.D.

Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Okayama University

Okayama, Japan

Back to Top | Article Outline


The authors have no financial interest to declare in relation to the content of this article.

Back to Top | Article Outline


1. Kitai T, Inomoto T, Miwa M, Shikayama T. Fluorescence navigation with indocyanine green for detecting sentinel lymph nodes in breast cancer. Breast Cancer 2005;12:211–215.
2. Unno N, Inuzuka K, Suzuki M, et al. Preliminary experience with a novel fluorescence lymphography using indocyanine green in patients with secondary lymphedema. J Vasc Surg. 2007;45:1016–1021.
3. Ogata F, Narushima M, Mihara M, Azuma R, Morimoto Y, Koshima I. Intraoperative lymphography using indocyanine green dye for near-infrared fluorescence labeling in lymphedema. Ann Plast Surg. 2007;59:180–184.
4. Feldman MG, Kohan P, Edelman S, Jacobson JH II. Lymphangiographic studies in obstructive lymphedema of the upper extremity. Surgery 1966;59:935–943.
5. Sty JR, Boedecker RA, Scanlon GT, Babbitt DP. Radionuclide “dermal backflow” in lymphatic obstruction. J Nucl Med. 1979;20:905–906.
Back to Top | Article Outline

Section Description


Viewpoints, pertaining to issues of general interest, are welcome, even if they are not related to items previously published. Viewpoints may present unique techniques, brief technology updates, technical notes, and so on. Viewpoints will be published on a space-available basis because they are typically less timesensitive than Letters and other types of articles. Please note the following criteria:

* Text—maximum of 500 words (not including references)

* References—maximum of five

* Authors—no more than five

* Figures/Tables—no more than two figures and/or one table

Authors will be listed in the order in which they appear in the submission. Viewpoints should be submitted electronically via PRS' enkwell, at We strongly encourage authors to submit figures in color.

We reserve the right to edit Viewpoints to meet requirements of space and format. Any financial interests relevant to the content must be disclosed. Submission of a Viewpoint constitutes permission for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and its licensees and assignees to publish it in the Journal and in any other form or medium.

The views, opinions, and conclusions expressed in the Viewpoints represent the personal opinions of the individual writers and not those of the publisher, the Editorial Board, or the sponsors of the Journal. Any stated views, opinions, and conclusions do not reflect the policy of any of the sponsoring organizations or of the institutions with which the writer is affiliated, and the publisher, the Editorial Board, and the sponsoring organizations assume no responsibility for the content of such correspondence.

Supplemental Digital Content

Back to Top | Article Outline
©2011American Society of Plastic Surgeons