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Histology and Ultrastructure of the Developing Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon in Rabbits

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This study was designed to investigate the developmental changes in the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) of the white New Zealand rabbit, from 5 to 7 days pre-natal to 112 days post-natal (PN), at histological and ultrastructural levels. The tendons changed from being highly cellular with 13079 ± 2538 cell/mm2 and little directional organization to a longitudinally oriented, predominantly connective tissue structure with relatively few, mature tenocytes (2384 ± 365 cell/mm2). Fibrillogenesis was seen in isolated vacuoles of fibroblast cytoplasm during fetal life as well as after birth, but less frequently with increasing age. At the ultrastructural level, there was a progressive increase in the mean diameter of collagen fibrils with age throughout the population, until PN day 28. A bimodal distribution of collagen fibril size was first observed on PN day 56 while at day 112, the fibrils were fully differentiated and showed a multimodal size distribution. The development of elastic fibres preceded that of collagen fibres and accompanied progressively more marked sinusoidal crimping in collagen fibres on PN days 7 and 14. The tendons of older animals became less tightly crimped. The cells of the epi- and endotenon were less mature and relatively undifferentiated compared with the cells in the body of the tendon of the same age, which might explain their ability to initiate healing of tendon injuries in older animals. In conclusion, extensive changes were observed in tendons during growth and maturation, with diameters of collagen fibrils, tissue orientation and cellularity being the parameters affected, probably due largely to increased physical activity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Corresponding author:, Tel: +987112286950, Fax: +987112286940, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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