Background: Although survival of transplanted stem cells in vivo and differentiation of stem cells into tenocytes in vitro have been reported, there have been no in vivo studies demonstrating that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could secrete their own proteins as differentiated tenogenic cells. Purpose/Hypothesis: Using a xenogeneic MSC transplantation model, we aimed to investigate whether MSCs could differentiate into the tenogenic lineage and secrete their own proteins. The hypothesis was that human MSCs would differentiate into the human tenogenic lineage and the cells would be able to secrete human-specific proteins in a rat tendon injury model.
Study design: Controlled laboratory study.
Methods: The Achilles tendons of 57 Sprague Dawley rats received full-thickness rectangular defects. After the modeling, the defective tendons were randomly assigned to 3 groups: (1) cell group, implantation with human adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hASCs) and fibrin glue (106 cells in 60 μL); (2) fibrin group, implantation with fibrin glue and same volume of cell media; and (3) sham group, identical surgical procedure without any treatment. Gross observation and biomechanical, histopathological, immunohistochemistry, and Western blot analyses were performed at 2 and 4 weeks after modeling.
Results: hASCs implanted into the defective rat tendons were viable for 4 weeks as detected by immunofluorescence staining. Tendons treated with hASCs showed better gross morphological and biomechanical recovery than those in the fibrin and sham groups. Furthermore, the expression of both human-specific collagen type I and tenascin-C was significantly higher in the cell group than in the other 2 groups.
Conclusion: Transplantation of hASCs enhanced rat tendon healing biomechanically. hASCs implanted into the rat tendon defect model survived for at least 4 weeks and secreted human-specific collagen type I and tenascin-C. These findings suggest that transplanted MSCs may be able to differentiate into the tenogenic lineage and contribute their own proteins to tendon healing.
Clinical relevance: In tendon injury, MSCs can enhance tendon healing by secreting their own protein and have potential as a therapeutic option in human tendinopathy.
Keywords: Achilles tendon; collagen type I; mesenchymal stem cells; tendon injuries; xenogeneic stem cell transplantation.