OBJECTIVE: The goals of this work were to develop animal models of lymphedema and tissue flap transfer, and to observe physiologic changes in lymphatic function that occur in these models over time, both systemically with lymphoscintigraphy (LS) and locally using fluorescence microlymphangiography (FM). SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Although lymphedema has been managed by a combination of medical and surgical approaches, no effective long-term cure exists. Surgical attempts aimed at reconnecting impaired lymphatic channels or bypassing obstructed areas have failed. METHODS: The tails of rats (A groups) and mice (B groups) were used because of their different features. Lymphedema was created by ligation of the lymphatics at the tail base and quantified by diameter measurements there. In the experimental group, rectus abdominis myocutaneous flap was transferred across the ligation. In addition to the ligation (A1 and B1) and ligation + flap (A2 and B2) groups, three control groups were included: sham flap with ligation (B4), sham flap alone (B5), and normal (A3 and B3) animals. Observations were made at weekly time points for lymphatic function and continuity. RESULTS: Lymphedema was successfully created in the mouse ligation groups (B1 and B4) and sustained for the entire length of observation (up to 14 weeks). Lymphatic continuity was restored in those animals with transferred flaps across the ligation site (A2 and B2), as seen both by LS and FM. Sham flaps did not visibly affect lymphatic function nor did they cause any visible swelling in the tail. CONCLUSIONS: Acute lymphedema developing after ligation of tail lymphatics in mice can be prevented by myocutaneous flap transfer. Restored lymphatic continuity and function were demonstrable using lymphoscintigraphy and fluorescence microlymphangiography.