The cellular basis of fibrotic tendon healing: challenges and opportunities

Transl Res. 2019 Jul:209:156-168. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2019.02.002. Epub 2019 Feb 8.


Tendon injuries are common and can dramatically impair patient mobility and productivity, resulting in a significant socioeconomic burden and reduced quality of life. Because the tendon healing process results in the formation of a fibrotic scar, injured tendons never regain the mechanical strength of the uninjured tendon, leading to frequent reinjury. Many tendons are also prone to the development of peritendinous adhesions and excess scar formation, which further reduce tendon function and lead to chronic complications. Despite this, there are currently no treatments that adequately improve the tendon healing process due in part to a lack of information regarding the contributions of various cell types to tendon healing and how their activity may be modulated for therapeutic value. In this review, we summarize recent efforts to identify and characterize the distinct cell populations involved at each stage of tendon healing. In addition, we examine the mechanisms through which different cell populations contribute to the fibrotic response to tendon injury, and how these responses can be affected by systemic factors and comorbidities. We then discuss gaps in our current understanding of tendon fibrosis and highlight how new technologies and research areas are shedding light on this clinically important and intractable challenge. A better understanding of the complex cellular environment during tendon healing is crucial to the development of new therapies to prevent fibrosis and promote tissue regeneration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Tendons / pathology*
  • Wound Healing*