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  1. Abstract

    The extracellular matrix (ECM) is the primary biomechanical environment that interacts with tendon cells (tenocytes). Stresses applied via muscle contraction during skeletal movement transfer across structural hierarchies to the tenocyte nucleus in native uninjured tendons. Alterations to ECM structural and mechanical properties due to mechanical loading and tissue healing may affect this multiscale strain transfer and stress transmission through the ECM. This study explores the interface between dynamic loading and tendon healing across multiple length scales using living tendon explants. Results show that macroscale mechanical and structural properties are inferior following high magnitude dynamic loading (fatigue) in uninjured living tendon and that these effects propagate to the microscale. Although similar macroscale mechanical effects of dynamic loading are present in healing tendon compared to uninjured tendon, the microscale properties differed greatly during early healing. Regression analysis identified several variables (collagen and nuclear disorganization, cellularity, and F-actin) that directly predict nuclear deformation under loading. Finite element modeling predicted deficits in ECM stress transmission following fatigue loading and during healing. Together, this work identifies the multiscale response of tendon to dynamic loading and healing, and provides new insight into microenvironmental features that tenocytes may experience following injury and after cell delivery therapies.


    In tendon, type‐I collagen assembles together into fibrils, fibers, and fascicles that exhibit a wavy or crimped pattern that uncrimps with applied tensile loading. This structural property has been observed across multiple tendons throughout aging and may play an important role in tendon viscoelasticity, response to fatigue loading, healing, and development. Previous work has shown that crimp is permanently altered with the application of fatigue loading. This opens the possibility of evaluating tendon crimp as a clinical surrogate of tissue damage. The purpose of this study was to determine how fatigue loading in tendon affects crimp and mechanical properties throughout aging and between tendon types. Mouse patellar tendons (PT) and flexor digitorum longus (FDL) tendons were fatigue loaded while an integrated plane polariscope simultaneously assessed crimp properties at P150 and P570 days of age to model mature and aged tendon phenotypes (N = 10–11/group). Tendon type, fatigue loading, and aging were found to differentially affect tendon mechanical and crimp properties. FDL tendons had higher modulus and hysteresis, whereas the PT showed more laxity and toe region strain throughout aging. Crimp frequency was consistently higher in FDL compared with PT throughout fatigue loading, whereas the crimp amplitude was cycle dependent. This differentialmore »response based on tendon type and age further suggests that the FDL and the PT respond differently to fatigue loading and that this response is age‐dependent. Together, our findings suggest that the mechanical and structural effects of fatigue loading are specific to tendon type and age in mice. © 2019 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res 38:36–42, 2020

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