VGluT2 expression in painful Achilles and patellar tendinosis: evidence of local glutamate release by tenocytes

J Orthop Res. 2008 May;26(5):685-92. doi: 10.1002/jor.20536.


The pathogenesis of chronic tendinopathy is unclear. We have previously measured high intratendinous levels of glutamate in patients with tendinosis, suggesting potential roles of glutamate in the modulation of pain, vascular function, and degenerative changes including apoptosis of tenocytes. However, the origin of free glutamate found in tendon tissue is completely unknown. Surgical biopsies of pain-free normal tendons and tendinosis tendons (Achilles and patellar) were examined immunohistochemically using antibodies against vesicular glutamate transporters (VGluT1 and VGluT2), as indirect markers of glutamate release. In situ hybridization for VGluT2 mRNA was also conducted. Specific immunoreactions for VGluT2, but not VGluT1, could be consistently detected in tenocytes. However, there were interindividual variations in the levels of immunoreactivity. The level of immunoreaction for VGluT2 was higher in tendinosis tendons compared to normal tendons (p < 0.05). In situ hybridization of VGluT2 demonstrated that mRNA was localized in a similar pattern as the protein, with marked expression by certain tenocytes, particularly those showing abnormal appearances. Reactivity for VGluT1 and -2 was absent from nerves and vessel structures in both normal and painful tendons. The current data demonstrate that tenocytes may be involved in the regulation of extracellular glutamate levels in tendons. Specifically, the observations suggest that free glutamate may be locally produced and released by tenocytes, rather than by peripheral neurons. Excessive free glutamate is expected to impact a variety of autocrine and paracrine functions important in the development of tendinosis, including tenocyte proliferation and apoptosis, extracellular matrix metabolism, nociception, and blood flow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / metabolism*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patellar Ligament / metabolism*
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Tendinopathy / metabolism*
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 1 / metabolism*
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2 / metabolism*


  • Protein Isoforms
  • RNA, Messenger
  • SLC17A6 protein, human
  • SLC17A7 protein, human
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 1
  • Vesicular Glutamate Transport Protein 2
  • Glutamic Acid