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Anat Rec. 1997 May;248(1):29-39.

Morphological and immunohistochemical examination of nerves in normal and injured collateral ligaments of rat, rabbit, and human knee joints.

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Department of Surgery, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.



Knee joints possess an abundant nerve supply that relays sensory and motor information on such aspects as proprioception, nociception, and vasoregulation. Although synovial innervation has been well documented, little is known of the nerves that supply the collateral ligaments.


The morphology of rabbit and human collateral ligament nerves was examined by silver impregnation. Immunohistochemistry was performed on rabbit and rat collateral ligaments to determine the presence of peptidergic nerves in these tissues. A 6-week gap injury was performed on three rabbit medial collateral ligaments, and the localisation of peptidergic nerves in these tissues was determined.


Irrespective of species or type of ligament examined, the greatest density of nerve fibres was found in the epiligament. Nerve fibres commonly accompanied blood vessels along the long axis of the ligament and then entered the substance of the tissue before ramifying in the deeper layers. Substance P and calcitonin gene-related peptide-immunoreactive nerve fibres were found in the collateral ligaments of the rat and rabbit. Injured ligaments showed a higher than normal level of immunoreactivity in and around the healing zone; however, the nerve fibres appeared tangled and truncated.


Like other structures in knee joints, collateral ligaments possess a complex nerve supply. The presence of peptidergic nerves suggests that ligaments may be susceptible to neurogenic inflammation and may be centres of articular nociception.

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