This study tested the hypothesis that physiologic tendon loading modulates the fibrous connective tissue phenotype in undifferentiated skeletal cells. Type I collagen sponges containing human bone marrow stromal cells (MSCs) were implanted into the midsubstance of excised sheep patellar tendons. An ex vivo loading system was designed to cyclically stretch each tendon from 0 to 5% at 1.0 Hz. The MSC-sponge constructs were implanted into 2 tendon sites: the first site subjected to tension only and a second site located at an artificially created wrap-around region in which an additional compressive stress was generated transverse to the longitudinal axis of the tendon. The induced contact pressure at the wraparound site was 0.55 +/- 0.12 MPa, as quantified by pressure-sensitive film. An MSC-sponge construct was maintained free swelling in the same bath as an unloaded control. After 2 h of tendon stretching, the MSC-sponge constructs were harvested and real-time PCR was used to quantify Fos, Sox9, Cbfa1 (Runx2), and scleraxis mRNA expression as markers of skeletal differentiation. Two hours of mechanical loading distinctly altered MSC differentiation in the wrap-around region and the tensile-only region, as evidenced by differences in Fos and Sox9 mRNA expression. Expression of Fos mRNA was 13 and 52 times higher in the tensile-only and wrap-around regions, respectively, compared to the free-swelling controls. Expression of Sox9 mRNA was significantly higher (2.5-3 times) in MSCs from the wraparound region compared to those from the tensile-only region or in free-swelling controls. In contrast, expression levels for Cbfa1 did not differ among constructs. Scleraxis mRNA was not detected in any construct. This study demonstrates that the physiologic mechanical environment in the wrap-around regions of tendons provides stimuli for upregulating early response genes and transcription factors associated with chondrogenic differentiation. These differentiation responses begin within as little as 2 h after the onset of mechanical stimulation and may be the basis for the formation of fibrocartilage that is typically found in the wrap-around region of mature tendons in vivo.
View details for Web of Science ID 000240780900021
View details for PubMedID 16995794