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J Anat. 2007 Oct;211(4):436-43. Epub 2007 Aug 3.

Adipose tissue at entheses: the innervation and cell composition of the retromalleolar fat pad associated with the rat Achilles tendon.

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Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, UK.


This study set out to determine whether the fat pad at the attachment of the Achilles tendon has features enabling it to function as an immune organ and a mechanosensory device, and to be a source of pain in insertional tendon injuries. Sections for histology and immunohistochemistry were cut from the Achilles tendon enthesis organ of 1 day old, 1 month, 4 month and 24 month old rats. For fluorescence and peroxidase immunohistochemistry, cryosections were labelled with primary antibodies directed against PGP9.5, substance P, neurofilament 200, calcitonin gene related peptide, CD68, CD36, myeloid related protein 14, actin and vinculin. The fat pad contained not only adipocytes, but also fibrous tissue, mast cells, macrophages, fibroblasts and occasional fibrocartilage cells. It was richly innervated with nerve fibres, some of which were likely to be nociceptive, and others mechanoreceptive (myelinated fibres, immunoreactive for neurofilament 200). The fibres lay between individual fat cells and in association with blood vessels. In marked contrast, the enthesis itself and all other components of the enthesis organ were aneural at all ages. The presence of putative mechanoreceptive and nociceptive nerve endings between individual fat cells supports the hypothesis that the fat pad has a proprioceptive role monitoring changes in the insertional angle of the Achilles tendon and that it may be a source of pain in tendon injuries. The abundance of macrophages suggests that the adipose tissue could have a role in combating infection and/or removing debris from the retrocalcaneal bursa.

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