Tendons and ligaments are anatomically distinct but overlap in molecular and morphological features--a comparative study in an ovine model

J Orthop Res. 2007 Apr;25(4):458-64. doi: 10.1002/jor.20218.


Tendons and ligaments are similar in composition but differ in function. Simple anatomical definitions do not reflect the fact individual tendons and ligaments have unique properties due to their adaptation to a specific role. The patellar tendon is a structure of particular clinical interest. A null hypothesis was declared stating that the patellar tendon is not significantly different in terms of matrix composition and collagen fibril diameter to other tendons. The lateral and medial collateral ligaments (LCL, MCL), anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL, PCL), together with the long digital extensor, superficial digital extensor, and patellar tendons (LDET, SDFT, PT) were harvested from three cadaveric ovine hindlimbs. The extracellular matrix was assessed in terms of water, collagen, and total sulphated glycosaminoglycan (GAG) content. The organization of the collagen component was determined by an ultrastructural analysis of collagen fibril diameter distributions, together with values for the collagen fibril index (CFI) and mass-average diameter (MAD). There were significant differences between ligaments and tendons. The PT had a bimodal collagen fibril diameter distribution with CFI 72.9%, MAD 202 nm, water content 53.1%, GAG content 2.3 microg/mg, and collagen content 73.7%, which was not significantly different from the other tendons. The results of this study support the null hypothesis suggesting that the patellar tendon is similar to other tendons and demonstrate that tendons have different characteristics to ligaments.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / metabolism
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament / ultrastructure
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Glycosaminoglycans / metabolism
  • Glycosaminoglycans / ultrastructure
  • Ligaments / metabolism*
  • Ligaments / ultrastructure*
  • Medial Collateral Ligament, Knee / metabolism
  • Medial Collateral Ligament, Knee / ultrastructure
  • Models, Animal
  • Patellar Ligament / metabolism
  • Patellar Ligament / ultrastructure
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament / metabolism
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament / ultrastructure
  • Sheep
  • Tendons / metabolism*
  • Tendons / ultrastructure*


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Collagen