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Implantation increases tensile strength and collagen content of self-assembled tendon constructs

Journal of Applied Physiology


Tissue-engineered tendons, derived from an autologous cell source, have the potential to provide an ideal replacement graft that is biologically compatible and has the ability to adapt to the specific mechanical requirements of the in vivo environment. Scaffold-free tendon constructs have been successfully engineered in vitro. However, when compared against native tendons the constructs demonstrate both a lower tensile strength and collagen content. We hypothesized that the in vitro environment lacks certain environmental stimuli and that implantation in vivo would facilitate the maturation of engineered tissues. Using primary Achilles tendon fibroblasts from adult rats, self-organizing constructs were created in vitro. Tendon constructs were implanted subcutaneously into the groins of adult rats for 4 wk, while controls remained in vitro. Implanted constructs increased in stiffness by three orders of magnitude when compared with the in vitro controls (7,500 vs. 22.3 kPa). This increase in tangent modulus correlated with a significant increase in collagen content, as measured by hydroxyproline concentration, from 3.9% for the in vitro controls to 22.7% in the in vivo conditioned group. In addition, collagen fiber diameter increased from 22.0 to 75.4 nm as a result of in vivo implantation. The tensile strength and collagen content of in vivo conditioned constructs were similar to the values determined for neonatal rat tibialis anterior tendons.


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