Tendons and ligaments: a morphological and biochemical comparison

J Orthop Res. 1984;1(3):257-65. doi: 10.1002/jor.1100010305.


The purpose of this study was to compare selected rabbit tendons and ligaments morphologically and biochemically. Five representative structures from each of six age- and sex-matched rabbits were compared. Biochemical analyses included total collagen, reducible collagen cross-links, quantitative collagen typing, DNA, and glycosaminoglycans. Histological and chemical differences were demonstrated between the tendons and the ligaments. Smaller differences were also found between the individual ligaments (collateral and cruciate) and between the two tendons (patellar and Achilles) that were examined. These findings suggest that ligaments are more metabolically active than tendons, having more plump cellular nuclei, higher DNA content, larger amounts of reducible cross-links, and the presence of more type III collagen, as compared with tendons. They also contain slightly less total collagen than tendons and more glycosaminoglycans. We conclude that the tendons and ligaments studied have unique histological and biochemical characteristics, despite their gross similarities. Relatively increased metabolic activity in ligaments, implied by our findings, may be species specific, age related (transient), or may truly represent a structural expression of functional need for more rapid adaptation. Further investigation of other similarities or differences between particular ligaments (or tendons) is indicated, and attention is directed toward the importance of such variables in development of models for tendon and ligament studies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Ion Exchange
  • Collagen / analysis*
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • DNA / analysis
  • Glycosaminoglycans / analysis
  • Knee Joint
  • Ligaments, Articular / analysis*
  • Ligaments, Articular / cytology
  • Male
  • Rabbits
  • Tendons / analysis*
  • Tendons / cytology


  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Collagen
  • DNA