Tendon explant models for physiologically relevant invitro study of tissue biology - a perspective

Connect Tissue Res. 2020 May-Jul;61(3-4):262-277. doi: 10.1080/03008207.2019.1700962. Epub 2020 Jan 13.


Background: Tendon disorders increasingly afflict our aging society but we lack the scientific understanding to clinically address them. Clinically relevant models of tendon disease are urgently needed as established small animal models of tendinopathy fail to capture essential aspects of the disease. Two-dimensional and three-dimensional cell and tissue culture models are similarly limited, lacking many physiological extracellular matrix cues required to maintain tissue homeostasis or guide matrix remodeling. These cues reflect the biochemical and biomechanical status of the tissue, and encode information regarding the mechanical and metabolic competence of the tissue. Tendon explants overcome some of these limitations and have thus emerged as a valuable tool for the discovery and study of mechanisms associated with tendon homeostasis and pathophysiology. Tendon explants retain native cell-cell and cell-matrix connections, while allowing highly reproducible experimental control over extrinsic factors like mechanical loading and nutritional availability. In this sense tendon explant models can deliver insights that are otherwise impossible to obtain from in vivo animal or in vitro cell culture models. Purpose: In this review, we aimed to provide an overview of tissue explant models used in tendon research, with a specific focus on the value of explant culture systems for the controlled study of the tendon core tissue. We discuss their advantages, limitations and potential future utility. We include suggestions and technical recommendations for the successful use of tendon explant cultures and conclude with an outlook on how explant models may be leveraged with state-of-the-art biotechnologies to propel our understanding of tendon physiology and pathology.

Keywords: Extracellular matrix; Mechanobiology; Tendon; Tissue model; ex vivo.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Tendinopathy / metabolism*
  • Tendinopathy / pathology
  • Tendons / metabolism*
  • Tendons / pathology
  • Tissue Culture Techniques