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J Biomech. 2009 Jul 22;42(10):1547-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2009.03.031. Epub 2009 Apr 24.

Local strain measurement reveals a varied regional dependence of tensile tendon mechanics on glycosaminoglycan content.

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Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University and ETH Zürich, Switzerland.


Proteoglycans (PG) and their associated glycosaminoglycan (GAG) side chains are known to play a key role in the bearing of compressive loads in cartilage and other skeletal connective tissues. In tendons and connective tissues that are primarily loaded in tension, the influence of proteoglycans on mechanical behavior is debated due to conflicting experimental evidence that alternately supports or controverts a functional role of proteoglycans in bearing tensile load. In this study we sought to better reconcile these conflicting data by investigating the possibility that GAG content is differentially related to tensile tendon mechanics depending upon the anatomical subregion one considers. To test this hypothesis, we quantified the mechanical consequences of proteoglycan disruption within specific tendon anatomical subregions using an optical-mechanical measurement approach. Achilles tendons from adult mice were treated with chondroitinase ABC to obtain two groups consisting of native tendons and GAG-depleted tendons. All the tendons were mechanically tested and imaged with high-resolution digital video in order to optically quantify tendon strains. Tendon surface strains were locally analyzed in three main subregions: the central midsubstance, and the proximal and distal midsubstance near the muscle and bone insertions, respectively. Upon GAG digestion, the tendon midsubstance softened appreciably near the bone insertion, while elastic modulus in the central and proximal thirds was unchanged. Thus the contribution of PGs to tensile tendon mechanics is not straightforward and points to a heterogeneous and complex structure-function relationship in tendon. This study further highlights the importance of performing local strain analysis with regard to tensile tendon mechanics.

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