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J Biomech. 2003 Jan;36(1):97-102.

Cell orientation determines the alignment of cell-produced collagenous matrix.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Musculoskeletal Research Center, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, E1641 Biomedical Science Tower, 210 Lothrop Street, PO Box 71199, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


In healing ligaments and tendons, the cells are not aligned and collagen matrix is not organized as in normal tissues. In addition, the mechanical properties of the tissues are abnormal. We hypothesized that the lack of alignment of the collagen matrix results from random orientation of the cells seen in the healing area. To test this hypothesis, a novel in vitro model was used in which the orientation of cells could be controlled via microgrooves, and alignment of the collagen matrix formed by these cells could be easily observed. It is known that cells align uniformly along the direction of microgrooves; therefore MC3T3-E1 cells, which produce large amounts of collagen, were grown on silicone membranes with parallel microgrooves (10 microm wide x 3 microm deep) in the surface. As a control, the same cells were also grown on smooth silicone membranes. Cells on both the microgrooved and smooth silicone surfaces produced a layer of readily visible collagen matrix. Immunohistochemical staining showed that the matrix consisted of abundant type I collagen. Polarized light microscopy of the collagen matrix revealed the collagen fibers to be parallel to the direction of the microgrooves, whereas the collagen matrix produced by the randomly oriented cells on the smooth membranes was disorganized. Thus, the results of this study suggest that the orientation of cells affects the organization of the collagenous matrix produced by the cells. The results also suggest that orienting cells along the longitudinal direction of healing ligaments and tendons may lead to the production of aligned collagenous matrix that more closely represents the uninjured state. This may enhance the mechanical properties of healing ligaments and tendons.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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