Stimulation of Tendon Healing With Delayed Dexamethasone Treatment Is Modified by the Microbiome

Am J Sports Med. 2018 Nov;46(13):3281-3287. doi: 10.1177/0363546518799442. Epub 2018 Sep 28.


Background: The immune system reflects the microbiome (microbiota). Modulation of the immune system during early tendon remodeling by dexamethasone treatment can improve rat Achilles tendon healing. The authors tested whether changes in the microbiota could influence the effect of dexamethasone treatment.

Hypothesis: A change in microbiome would influence the response to dexamethasone on regenerate remodeling, specifically tendon material properties (peak stress).

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Specific opportunist and pathogen-free female rats were housed separately (n = 41) or together with specific pathogen-free rats carrying opportunistic microbes such as Staphylococcus aureus (n = 41). After 6 weeks, all co-housed rats appeared healthy but now carried S aureus. Changes in the gut bacterial flora were tested by API and RapID biochemical tests. All rats (clean and contaminated) underwent Achilles tendon transection under aseptic conditions. Flow cytometry was performed 8 days postoperatively on tendon tissue. Sixty rats received subcutaneous dexamethasone or saline injections on days 5 through 9 after transection. The tendons were tested mechanically on day 12. The predetermined primary outcome was the interaction between contamination and dexamethasone regarding peak stress, tested by 2-way analysis of variance.

Results: Dexamethasone increased peak stress in all groups but more in contaminated rats (105%) than in clean rats (53%) (interaction, P = .018). A similar interaction was found for an estimate of elastic modulus ( P = .021). Furthermore, dexamethasone treatment reduced transverse area but had small effects on peak force and stiffness. In rats treated with saline only, contamination reduced peak stress by 16% ( P = .04) and elastic modulus by 35% ( P = .004). Contamination led to changes in the gut bacterial flora and higher levels of T cells (CD3+CD4+) in the healing tendon ( P < .05).

Conclusion: Changes in the microbiome influence tendon healing and enhance the positive effects of dexamethasone treatment during the early remodeling phase of tendon healing.

Clinical relevance: The positive effect of dexamethasone on early tendon remodeling in rats is strikingly strong. If similar effects could be shown in humans, immune modulation by a few days of systemic corticosteroids, or more specific compounds, could open new approaches to rehabilitation after tendon injury.

Keywords: Achilles tendon; biomechanics of the tendon; corticosteroids; immune system; microbiota; tendon healing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / injuries*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Microbiota*
  • Rats
  • Specific Pathogen-Free Organisms
  • Tendon Injuries / therapy*
  • Wound Healing


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Dexamethasone