Elastic fibers containing elastin play an important role in tendon functionality, but the knowledge on presence and function of elastin during tendon healing is limited. The aim of this study was to investigate elastin content and distribution in intact and healing Achilles tendons and to understand how elastin influence the viscoelastic properties of tendons. The right Achilles tendon was completely transected in 81 Sprague-Dawley rats. Elastin content was quantified in intact and healing tendons (7, 14, and 28 days post-surgery) and elastin distribution was visualized by immunohistochemistry at 14 days post-surgery. Degradation of elastin by elastase incubation was used to study the role of elastin on viscoelastic properties. Mechanical testing was either performed as a cyclic test (20× 10 N) or as a creep test. We found significantly higher levels of elastin in healing tendons at all time-points compared to intact tendons (4% in healing tendons 28 days post-surgery vs 2% in intact tendons). The elastin was more widely distributed throughout the extracellular matrix in the healing tendons in contrast to the intact tendon where the distribution was not so pronounced. Elastase incubation reduced the elastin levels by approximately 30% and led to a 40%-50% reduction in creep. This reduction was seen in both intact and healing tendons. Our results show that healing tendons contain more elastin and is more compliable than intact tendons. The role of elastin in tendon healing and tissue compliance indicates a protective role of elastic fibers to prevent re-injuries during early tendon healing. Plain Language Summary: Tendons transfer high loads from muscles to bones during locomotion. They are primarily made by the protein collagen, a protein that provide strength to the tissues. Besides collagen, tendons also contain other building blocks such as, for example, elastic fibers. Elastic fibers contain elastin and elastin is important for the extensibility of the tendon. When a tendon is injured and ruptured the tissue heals through scar formation. This scar tissue is different from a normal intact tendon and it is important to understand how the tendons heal. Little is known about the presence and function of elastin during healing of tendon injuries. We have shown, in animal experiments, that healing tendons have higher amounts of elastin compared to intact tendons. The elastin is also spread throughout the tissue. When we reduced the levels of this protein, we discovered altered mechanical properties of the tendon. The healing tendon can normally extend quite a lot, but after elastin removal this extensibility was less obvious. The ability of the healing tissue to extend is probably important to protect the tendon from re-injuries during the first months after rupture. We therefore propose that the tendons heal with a large amount of elastin to prevent re-ruptures during early locomotion.
- Medicinsk bioteknik