Background: Mechanical stimulation improves the repair of ruptured tendons. Injection of a platelet concentrate (platelet-rich plasma, PRP) can also improve repair in several animal models. In a rat Achilles tendon transection model, 1 postoperative injection resulted in increased strength after 4 weeks. Considering the short half-lives of factors released by platelets, this very late effect calls for an explanation.
Methods: We studied the effects of platelets on Achilles tendon regenerates in rats 3, 5 and 14 days after transection. The tendons were either unloaded by Botulinum toxin A (Botox) injections into the calf muscles, or mechanically stimulated in activity cages. No Botox injections and ordinary cages, respectively, served as controls. Repair was evaluated by tensile testing.
Results: At 14 days, unloading (with Botox) abolished any effect of the platelets and reduced the mechanical properties of the repair tissue to less than half of normal. Thus, some mechanical stimulation is a prerequisite for the effect of platelets at 14 days. Without Botox, both activity and platelets increased repair independently of each other. However, at 3 and 5 days, platelets improved the mechanical properties in Botox-treated rats.
Interpretation: Platelets influence only the early phases of regeneration, but this allows mechanical stimulation to start driving neo-tendon development at an earlier time point, which kept it constantly ahead of the controls.