Tendons are able to transmit high loads efficiently due to their finely optimized hierarchical collagen structure. Two mechanisms by which tendons respond to load are collagen fibril sliding and deformation (stretch). Although many studies have demonstrated that regional variations in tendon structure, composition, and organization contribute to the full tendon׳s mechanical response, the location-dependent response to loading at the fibril level has not been investigated. In addition, the instantaneous response of fibrils to loading, which is clinically relevant for repetitive stretch or fatigue injuries, has also not been studied. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to quantify the instantaneous response of collagen fibrils throughout a mechanical loading protocol, both in the insertion site and in the midsubstance of the mouse supraspinatus tendon. Utilizing a novel atomic force microscopy-based imaging technique, tendons at various strain levels were directly visualized and analyzed for changes in fibril d-period with increasing tendon strain. At the insertion site, d-period significantly increased from 0% to 1% tendon strain, increased again from 3% to 5% strain, and decreased after 5% strain. At the midsubstance, d-period increased from 0% to 1% strain and then decreased after 7% strain. In addition, fibril d-period heterogeneity (fibril sliding) was present, primarily at 3% strain with a large majority occurring in the tendon midsubstance. This study builds upon previous work by adding information on the instantaneous and regional-dependent fibrillar response to mechanical loading and presents data proposing that collagen fibril sliding and stretch are directly related to tissue organization and function.
Keywords: AFM; Collagen fibril; Insertion site; Midsubstance; Sliding; Stretch; Tendon.
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