What understanding tendon cell differentiation can teach us about pathological tendon ossification

Histol Histopathol. 2015 Aug;30(8):901-10. doi: 10.14670/HH-11-614. Epub 2015 Apr 8.


Tendons are the structures that attach muscles to bones and transmit mechanical forces. Tendon cells are composed of mature tenocytes and a rare population of tendon stem cells. Both cell types ensure homeostasis and repair of tendon extracellular matrix to guarantee its specific mechanical properties. Moreover, tendon cells seem to present a marked potential for trans-differentiation, predominantly into the chondrocyte and osteoblast lineages. In this review article, we first present chronic tendon pathologies associated with abnormal ossification, such as spondyloarthritis and calcifying tendinopathy, and discuss how tendon cell differentiation and trans-differentiation may participate in these diseases. We moreover present the factors known to influence tendon cell differentiation and trans-differentiation, with a particular emphasis on extracellular environment, mechanical stimulation and several soluble factors that can tip the balance toward one or another lineage. A better understanding of the neglected tendon cell biology may be extremely useful to understand the pathological mechanisms of spondyloarthritis and calcifying tendinopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Humans
  • Ossification, Heterotopic / pathology*
  • Tendinopathy / pathology*
  • Tendons / cytology*
  • Tendons / pathology*