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Exploring human splenic red pulp vasculature in virtual reality: details of sheathed capillaries and the open capillary network

We reconstructed serial sections of a representative adult human spleen to clarify the unknown arrangement of the splenic microvasculature, such as terminal arterioles, sheathed capillaries, the red pulp capillary network and venules. The resulting 3D model was evaluated in virtual reality ({VR}). Capillary sheaths often occurred after the second or third branching of a terminal arteriole and covered its capillary side or end branches. The sheaths started directly after the final smooth muscle cells of the arteriole and consisted of cuboidal {CD}271++ stromal sheath cells surrounded and infiltrated by B lymphocytes and macrophages. Some sheaths covered up to four sequential capillary bifurcations thus forming bizarre elongated structures. Each sheath had a unique form. Apart from symmetric dichotomous branchings inside the sheath, sheathed capillaries also gave off side branches, which crossed the sheath and freely ended at its surface. These side branches are likely to distribute materials from the incoming blood to sheath-associated B lymphocytes and macrophages and thus represent the first location for recognition of blood-borne antigens in the spleen. A few non-sheathed bypasses from terminal arterioles to the red pulp capillary network also exist. Red pulp venules are primarily supplied by sinuses, but they also exhibit a few connections to the capillary network. Thus, the human splenic red pulp harbors a primarily open microcirculation with a very minor closed part.

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