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Acta Biomater. 2006 Sep;2(5):505-13. Epub 2006 Jul 12.

The influence of swelling and matrix degradation on the microstructural integrity of tendon.

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  • 1Department of Engineering, Medical Engineering Division and IRC in Biomedical Materials, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK.


Tendon is multi-level fibre composite material, responsible for the transmission of forces from muscles to the skeleton. It is composed of a hierarchical arrangement of collagenous units surrounded by a proteoglycan-rich matrix, arranged to support strain transfer, and thus contribute to the mechanical behaviour of tendon. This study examines the effect of swelling and enzymatic degradation on structural integrity at different levels of the tendon hierarchy. Biochemical and microstructural analysis are used to examine the effects of incubation on the composition and swelling of the matrix, prior to a mechanical characterisation of sample integrity. Results indicated significant swelling of tendon fibrils and interfibrillar matrix after incubation in phosphate buffered saline, leading to a reduction in ultimate tensile load, with failure initiated between fibrils and sub-fibrils. In contrast, incubation with the enzyme chondroitinase ABC resulted in a total removal of glycosaminoglycan from the samples, and a subsequent reduction in the extent of swelling. These fascicles also demonstrated an increase in failure loads, with failure predominating between fibres. The findings from this work confirm the importance of the non-collagenous matrix components in controlling strain transfer within tendon structures. It also highlights the necessity to maintain samples within a suitable and controlled environment prior to testing.

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