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Functional adaptation through changes in regional biochemical characteristics during maturation of equine superficial digital flexor tendons

Yi-lo Lin DVM, MSc1, Pieter A. J. Brama DVM, PhD2, Geesje H. Kiers MSc3, Jeroen DeGroot PhD4, and P. René van Weeren DVM, PhD5
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  • 1 Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Yalelaan 12, 3584 CM, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
  • | 2 Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Yalelaan 12, 3584 CM, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
  • | 3 Division of Biomedical Research, TNO Prevention and Health, PO Box 2215, 2301 CE, Leiden, The Netherlands.
  • | 4 Division of Biomedical Research, TNO Prevention and Health, PO Box 2215, 2301 CE, Leiden, The Netherlands.
  • | 5 Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Yalelaan 12, 3584 CM, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Abstract

Objective—To quantify and compare biochemical characteristics of the extracellular matrix (ECM) of specimens harvested from tensional and compressive regions of the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) of horses in age classes that include neonates to mature horses.

Sample Population—Tendon specimens were collected on postmortem examination from 40 juvenile horses (0, 5, 12, and 36 months old) without macroscopically visible signs of tendonitis.

Procedure—Central core specimens of the SDFT were obtained with a 4-mm-diameter biopsy punch from 2 loaded sites, the central part of the midmetacarpal region and the central part of the midsesamoid region. Biochemical characteristics of the collagenous ECM content (ie, collagen, hydroxylysylpyridinoline crosslink, and pentosidine crosslink concentrations and percentage of degraded collagen) and noncollagenous ECM content (percentage of water and glycosaminoglycans, DNA, and hyaluronic acid concentrations) were measured.

Results—The biochemical composition of equine SDFT was not homogeneous at birth with respect to DNA, glycosaminoglycans, and pentosidine concentrations. For most biochemical variables, the amounts present at birth were dissimilar to those found in mature horses. Fast and substantial changes in all components of the matrix occurred in the period of growth and development after birth.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Unlike cartilage, tendon tissue is not biochemically blank (ie, homogeneous) at birth. However, a process of functional adaptation occurs during maturation that changes the composition of equine SDFT from birth to maturity. Understanding of the maturation process of the juvenile equine SDFT may be useful in developing exercise programs that minimize tendon injuries later in life that result from overuse. (Am J Vet Res 2005;66:1623–1629)

Abstract

Objective—To quantify and compare biochemical characteristics of the extracellular matrix (ECM) of specimens harvested from tensional and compressive regions of the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) of horses in age classes that include neonates to mature horses.

Sample Population—Tendon specimens were collected on postmortem examination from 40 juvenile horses (0, 5, 12, and 36 months old) without macroscopically visible signs of tendonitis.

Procedure—Central core specimens of the SDFT were obtained with a 4-mm-diameter biopsy punch from 2 loaded sites, the central part of the midmetacarpal region and the central part of the midsesamoid region. Biochemical characteristics of the collagenous ECM content (ie, collagen, hydroxylysylpyridinoline crosslink, and pentosidine crosslink concentrations and percentage of degraded collagen) and noncollagenous ECM content (percentage of water and glycosaminoglycans, DNA, and hyaluronic acid concentrations) were measured.

Results—The biochemical composition of equine SDFT was not homogeneous at birth with respect to DNA, glycosaminoglycans, and pentosidine concentrations. For most biochemical variables, the amounts present at birth were dissimilar to those found in mature horses. Fast and substantial changes in all components of the matrix occurred in the period of growth and development after birth.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Unlike cartilage, tendon tissue is not biochemically blank (ie, homogeneous) at birth. However, a process of functional adaptation occurs during maturation that changes the composition of equine SDFT from birth to maturity. Understanding of the maturation process of the juvenile equine SDFT may be useful in developing exercise programs that minimize tendon injuries later in life that result from overuse. (Am J Vet Res 2005;66:1623–1629)