In tendons, differing physiological requirements lead to functionally distinct nanostructures

Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 13;8(1):4409. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-22741-8.


The collagen-based tissues of animals are hierarchical structures: even tendon, the simplest collagenous tissue, has seven to eight levels of hierarchy. Tailoring tissue structure to match physiological function can occur at many different levels. We wanted to know if the control of tissue architecture to achieve function extends down to the nanoscale level of the individual, cable-like collagen fibrils. Using tendons from young adult bovine forelimbs, we performed stress-strain experiments on single collagen fibrils extracted from tendons with positional function, and tendons with energy storing function. Collagen fibrils from the two tendon types, which have known differences in intermolecular crosslinking, showed numerous differences in their responses to elongation. Unlike those from positional tendons, fibrils from energy storing tendons showed high strain stiffening and resistance to disruption in both molecular packing and conformation, helping to explain how these high stress tissues withstand millions of loading cycles with little reparative remodeling. Functional differences in load-bearing tissues are accompanied by important differences in nanoscale collagen fibril structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Biomarkers
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cattle
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Molecular Imaging
  • Nanostructures*
  • Rupture / pathology
  • Tendon Injuries / metabolism
  • Tendon Injuries / pathology
  • Tendons / metabolism
  • Tendons / pathology
  • Tendons / physiology*
  • Tendons / ultrastructure*


  • Biomarkers
  • Collagen