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Changes in collagen with aging maintain molecular stability after overload: evidence from an in vitro tendon model.

  • Willett, Thomas L
  • Labow, Rosalind S
  • Aldous, Ian G
  • Avery, Nick C
  • Lee, J Michael
Published Article
Journal of Biomechanical Engineering
ASME International
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2010
DOI: 10.1115/1.4000933
PMID: 20459190


Soft tissue injuries are poorly understood at the molecular level. Previous work using differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) has shown that tendon collagen becomes less thermally stable with rupture. However, most soft tissue injuries do not result in complete tissue rupture but in damaging fiber overextension. Covalent crosslinking, which increases with animal maturity and age, plays an important role in collagenous fiber mechanics. It is also a determinant of tissue strength and is hypothesized to inhibit the loss of thermal stability of collagen due to mechanical damage. Controlled overextension without rupture was investigated to determine if overextension was sufficient to reduce the thermal stability of collagen in the bovine tail tendon (BTT) model and to examine the effects of aging on the phenomenon. Baseline data from DSC and hydrothermal isometric tension (HIT) techniques were compared between two groups: steers aged 24-30 months (young group), and skeletally mature bulls and oxen aged greater than five years (old group). Covalent crosslinks were quantified by ion exchange chromatography. Overextension resulted in reduced collagen thermal stability in the BTT model. The Young specimens, showing detectably lower tissue thermomechanical competence, lost more thermal stability with overextension than did the old specimens. The effect on old specimens, while smaller, was detectable. Multiple overextension cycles increased the loss of stability in the young group. Compositional differences in covalent crosslinking corresponded with tissue thermomechanical competence and therefore inversely with the loss of thermal stability. HIT testing gave thermal denaturation temperatures similar to those measured with DSC. The thermal stability of collagen was reduced by overextension of the tendon--without tissue rupture--and this effect was amplified by increased cycles of overextension. Increased tissue thermomechanical competence with aging seemed to mitigate the loss of collagen stability due to mechanical overextension. Surprisingly, the higher tissue thermomechanical competence did not directly correlate with the concentration of endogenous enzymatically derived covalent crosslinking on a mole per mole of collagen basis. It did, however, correlate with the percentage of mature and thermally stable crosslinks. Compositional changes in fibrous collagens that occur with aging affect fibrous collagen mechanics and partially determine the nature of mechanical damage at the intermolecular level. As techniques develop and improve, this new information may lead to important future studies concerning improved detection, prediction, and modeling of mechanical damage at much finer levels of tissue hierarchy than currently possible.

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