Release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from muscle and bone causes tenocyte death in a novel rotator cuff in vitro explant culture model

Connect Tissue Res. 2018 Sep;59(5):423-436. doi: 10.1080/03008207.2018.1439486. Epub 2018 Jun 6.


Purpose: Tendinopathy is a significant clinical problem thought to be associated with altered mechanical loading. Explant culture models allow researchers to alter mechanical loading in a controlled in vitro environment while maintaining tenocytes in their native matrix. However, current models do not accurately represent commonly injured tendons, ignoring contributions of associated musculature and bone, as well as regional collagen structure. This study details the characterization of amouse rotator cuff explant culture model, including bone, tendon, and muscle (BTM).

Materials and methods: Following harvest, BTM explants were maintained in stress-deprived culture for one week and tendon was then assessed for changes in cell viability, metabolism, matrix structure and content.

Results: Matrix turnover occurred throughout culture as manifested in both gene expression and biosynthesis, but this did not translate to net changes in total collagen or sulfated glycosaminoglycan content. Furthermore, tendon structure was not significantly altered throughout culture. However, we found significant cell death in BTM tendons after 3 days in culture, which we hypothesize is cytokine-induced. Using a targeted multiplex assay, we found high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines released to the culture medium from muscle and bone, levels that did cause cell deathin tendon-alone controls.

Conclusions: Overall, this model presents an innovative approach to understandingrotator cuff injury and tenocyte mechanobiology in a clinically-relevant tendon structure. Our model can be a powerful tool to investigate how mechanical and biological stimuli can alter normal tendon health and lead to tendon degeneration, and may provide a testbed for therapeutics for tendon repair.

Keywords: Bone; cytokines; explant; mechanobiology; muscle; rotator cuff; tendon.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Survival
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Muscles / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rotator Cuff / cytology*
  • Tenocytes / cytology*
  • Tissue Culture Techniques / methods*


  • Cytokines
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • RNA, Messenger