Background: Tendon and ligament injuries are common and costly in terms of surgery and rehabilitation. This might be improved by using tissue engineered constructs to accelerate the repair process; a method used successfully for skin wound healing and cartilage repair. Progress in this field has however been limited; possibly due to an over-simplistic choice of donor cell. For tissue engineering purposes it is often assumed that all tendon and ligament cells are similar despite their differing roles and biomechanics. To clarify this, we have characterised cells from various tendons and ligaments of human and rat origin in terms of proliferation, response to dexamethasone and cell surface marker expression.
Methods: Cells isolated from tendons by collagenase digestion were plated out in DMEM containing 10% fetal calf serum, penicillin/streptomycin and ultraglutamine. Cell number and collagen accumulation were by determined methylene blue and Sirius red staining respectively. Expression of cell surface markers was established by flow cytometry.
Results: In the CFU-f assay, human PT-derived cells produced more and bigger colonies suggesting the presence of more progenitor cells with a higher proliferative capacity. Dexamethasone had no effect on colony number in ACL or PT cells but 10 nM dexamethasone increased colony size in ACL cultures whereas higher concentrations decreased colony size in both ACL and PT cultures. In secondary subcultures, dexamethasone had no significant effect on PT cultures whereas a stimulation was seen at low concentrations in the ACL cultures and an inhibition at higher concentrations. Collagen accumulation was inhibited with increasing doses in both ACL and PT cultures. This differential response was also seen in rat-derived cells with similar differences being seen between Achilles, Patellar and tail tendon cells. Cell surface marker expression was also source dependent; CD90 was expressed at higher levels by PT cells and in both humans and rats whereas D7fib was expressed at lower levels by PT cells in humans.
Conclusion: These data show that tendon & ligament cells from different sources possess intrinsic differences in terms of their growth, dexamethasone responsiveness and cell surface marker expression. This suggests that for tissue engineering purposes the cell source must be carefully considered to maximise their efficacy.