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ILAR J. 2014;55(1):86-99. doi: 10.1093/ilar/ilu004.

Achilles tendon injuries in elite athletes: lessons in pathophysiology from their equine counterparts.


Superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) injury in equine athletes is one of the most well-accepted, scientifically supported companion animal models of human disease (i.e., exercise-induced Achilles tendon [AT] injury). The SDFT and AT are functionally and clinically equivalent (and important) energy-storing structures for which no equally appropriate rodent, rabbit, or other analogues exist. Access to equine tissues has facilitated significant advances in knowledge of tendon maturation and aging, determination of specific exercise effects (including early life), and definition of some of the earliest stages of subclinical pathology. Access to human surgical biopsies has provided complementary information on more advanced phases of disease. Importantly, equine SDFT injuries are only a model for acute ruptures in athletes, not the entire spectrum of human tendonopathy (including chronic tendon pain). In both, pathology begins with a potentially prolonged phase of accumulation of (subclinical) microdamage. Recent work has revealed remarkably similar genetic risk factors, including further evidence that tenocyte dysfunction plays an active role. Mice are convenient but not necessarily accurate models for multiple diseases, particularly at the cellular level. Mechanistic studies, including tendon cell responses to combinations of exercise-associated stresses, require a more thorough investigation of cross-species conservation of key stress pathway auditors. Molecular evidence has provided some context for the poor performance of mouse models; equines may provide better systems at this level. The use of horses may be additionally justifiable based on comparable species longevity, lifestyle factors, and selection pressure by similar infectious agents (e.g., herpesviruses) on general cell stress pathway evolution.


achilles tendon; aging; athletes; horse; superficial digital flexor tendon; tendinopathy; tendon; tenocyte

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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