Although rabbits are commonly used as tendon repair model, interpretative tools are divergent and comprehensive scoring systems are lacking. Hence, the aim was to develop a multifaceted scoring system to characterize healing in a partial Achilles tendon defect model. A 3 mm diameter defect was created in the midsubstance of the medial M. gastrocnemius tendon, which remained untreated or was filled with a polyglycolic-acid (PGA) scaffold + fibrin and either left cell-free or seeded with Achilles tenocytes. After 6 and 12 weeks, tendon repair was assessed macroscopically and histologically using self-constructed scores. Macroscopical scoring revealed superior results in the tenocyte seeded PGA + fibrin group compared with the controls at both time points. Histology of all operated tendons after 6 weeks proved extracellular matrix (ECM) disorganization, hypercellularity and occurrence of irregular running elastic fibres with no significance between the groups. Some inflammation was associated with PGA implantation and increased sulphated proteoglycan deposition predominantly with the empty defects. After 12 weeks defect areas became hard to recognize and differences between groups, except for the increased sulphated proteoglycans content in the empty defects, were almost nullified. We describe a partial Achilles tendon defect model and versatile scoring tools applicable for characterizing biomaterial-supported tendon healing.
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