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J Orthop Res. 2001 Mar;19(2):221-8.

The presence of smooth muscle actin in fibroblasts in the torn human rotator cuff.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The rotator cuff frequently sustains athletic and occupational injury, often resulting in chronic pain and disability. However, despite the high incidence of such shoulder problems, the pathophysiology of rotator cuff injury and healing has not yet been fully elucidated. The notable finding of this study was the presence of a contractile actin isoform, alpha-smooth muscle actin (SMA), in nonvascular cells in all of the seven torn human rotator cuff specimens evaluated immunohistochemically. Up to 95% of cells in any one region, and over 95% of elongated cells found in association with crimped collagen, contained SMA. Most of the cells staining positive for SMA in these sections had morphological features of the fibroblast, though a small number were chondrocyte-like. Treatment of cells growing out from human rotator cuff explants with TGF-beta1 significantly increased the amount of SMA evaluated by Western blot analysis. PDGF-BB and IFN-gamma had no effect on the cell content of SMA. This is the first documentation of the presence of SMA-positive cells in the human rotator cuff tendon. SMA has been found in a number of other healing connective tissues including skin, ligament, meniscus, cartilage, and other types of tendon. Of importance are previous findings that SMA-positive cells can contract a collagen-glycosaminoglycan analog of extracellular matrix in vitro. The results of the present study thus suggest that SMA-containing cells could contribute to the retraction of the torn ends of a ruptured rotator cuff and play an important role in healing.

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