The Achilles tendon consists mainly of type I collagen fibers that contain collagen fibrils. When the Achilles tendon is injured, it is inflamed. The collagenase-induced model has been widely used to study tendinitis. The major advantages of atomic force microscopy (AFM) over conventional optical and electron microscopy for bio-imaging include its non-requirement of a special coating and vacuum, and its capability to perform imaging in all environments. AFM force-distance measurements have become a fundamental tool in the fields of surface chemistry, biochemistry and materials science. Therefore, the changes in the ultrastructure and adhesion force of the collagen fibrils on the Achilles tendons of rats with Achilles tendinitis were observed using AFM. The changes in the structure of the Achilles tendons were evaluated based on the diameter and D-banding of the collagen fibrils. Collagenase-induced Achilles tendinitis was induced with the injection of 30 l crude collagenase into 7-week-old male Sprague-Dawley rats. The animals were each sacrificed on the first, second, third, fifth and seventh day after the collagenase injection. The normal and injured Achilles tendons were fixed in 4% buffered formalin and dehydrated with increasing concentrations of ethanol. AFM was performed using the non-contact mode at the resolution of 512 × 512 pixels, with a scan speed of 0.8 line/sec. The adhesion force was measured via the force-distance curve that resulted from the interactions between the AFM tip and the collagen fibril sample using the contact mode. The diameter of the collagen fibrils in the Achilles tendons significantly decreased (p < 0.05) after the collagenase injection, and the pattern of the D-banding of the collagen fibrils was similar to that of the diameter changes. The adhesion force decreased until the fifth day after the collagenase injection, but increased on the seventh day after the collagenase injection (p < 0.0001).
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