Background: Insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) plays a crucial role in wound healing and tissue repair. We tested the hypotheses that systemic administration of IGF-I, or growth hormone (GH), or both (GH+IGF-I) would improve healing in collagenous connective tissue, such as ligament. These hypotheses were examined in rats that were allowed unrestricted activity after injury and in animals that were subjected to hindlimb disuse. Male rats were assigned to three groups: ambulatory sham-control, ambulatory-healing, and hindlimb unloaded-healing. Ambulatory and hindlimb unloaded animals underwent surgical disruption of their knee medial collateral ligaments (MCLs), while sham surgeries were performed on control animals. Healing animals subcutaneously received systemic doses of either saline, GH, IGF-I, or GH+IGF-I. After 3 weeks, mechanical properties, cell and matrix morphology, and biochemical composition were examined in control and healing ligaments.
Results: Tissues from ambulatory animals receiving only saline had significantly greater strength than tissue from saline receiving hindlimb unloaded animals. Addition of IGF-I significantly improved maximum force and ultimate stress in tissues from both ambulatory and hindlimb unloaded animals with significant increases in matrix organization and type-I collagen expression. Addition of GH alone did not have a significant effect on either group, while addition of GH+IGF-I significantly improved force, stress, and modulus values in MCLs from hindlimb unloaded animals. Force, stress, and modulus values in tissues from hindlimb unloaded animals receiving IGF-I or GH+IGF-I exceeded (or were equivalent to) values in tissues from ambulatory animals receiving only saline with greatly improved structural organization and significantly increased type-I collagen expression. Furthermore, levels of IGF-receptor were significantly increased in tissues from hindlimb unloaded animals treated with IGF-I.
Conclusion: These results support two of our hypotheses that systemic administration of IGF-I or GH+IGF-I improve healing in collagenous tissue. Systemic administration of IGF-I improves healing in collagenous extracellular matrices from loaded and unloaded tissues. Growth hormone alone did not result in any significant improvement contrary to our hypothesis, while GH + IGF-I produced remarkable improvement in hindlimb unloaded animals.