Supraspinatus tendon overuse results in degenerative changes to tendon insertion region and adjacent humeral cartilage in a rat model

J Orthop Res. 2017 Sep;35(9):1910-1918. doi: 10.1002/jor.23496. Epub 2016 Dec 21.


The etiology of rotator cuff tendon overuse injuries is still not well understood. Furthermore, how this overuse injury impacts other components of the glenohumeral joint, including nearby articular cartilage, is also unclear. Therefore, this study sought to better understand the time course of tendon protease activity in a rat model of supraspinatus overuse, as well as determine effects of 10 weeks of overuse on humeral head articular cartilage. For these studies, multiplex gelatin zymography was used to characterize protease activity profiles in tendon and cartilage, while histological scoring/mechanical testing and micro-computed tomography (μCT) imaging were used to quantify structural damage in the supraspinatus tendon insertion and humeral articular cartilage, respectively. Histological scoring of supraspinatus tendon insertions revealed tendinopathic cellular and collagen fiber changes after 10 weeks of overuse when compared to controls, while mechanical testing revealed no significant differences between tensile moduli (overuse: 24.5 ± 11.5 MPa; control: 16.3 ± 8.7 MPa). EPIC-μCT imaging on humeral articular cartilage demonstrated significant cartilage thinning (overuse: 119.6 ± 6.34 μm; control: 195.4 ± 13.4μm), decreased proteoglycan content (overuse: 2.1 ± 0.18 cm-1 ; control: 1.65 ± 0.14 cm-1 ), and increased subchondral bone thickness (overuse: 216.2 ± 10.9 μm; control: 192 ± 17.8μm) in the overuse animals. Zymography results showed no significant upregulation of cathepsins or matrix metalloproteinases in tendon or cartilage at 2 or 10 weeks of overuse compared to controls. These results have further elucidated timing of protease activity over 10 weeks and suggest that damage occurs to other tissues in addition to the supraspinatus tendon in this overuse injury model. © 2016 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Orthop Res 35:1910-1918, 2017.

Keywords: cartilage; micro-computed tomography; overuse injury; supraspinatus tendon; zymography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cartilage, Articular / diagnostic imaging
  • Cartilage, Articular / enzymology
  • Cartilage, Articular / pathology*
  • Cathepsins / metabolism
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / enzymology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Male
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases / metabolism
  • Rats, Inbred Dahl
  • Rotator Cuff / diagnostic imaging
  • Rotator Cuff / enzymology
  • Rotator Cuff / pathology*
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / enzymology
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries / pathology*
  • Shoulder Joint / diagnostic imaging
  • Shoulder Joint / enzymology
  • Shoulder Joint / pathology*
  • X-Ray Microtomography


  • Cathepsins
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases