Fibrocartilages in the extensor tendons of the interphalangeal joints of human toes



The extensor tendons of the fingers and toes form part of the capsule of the interphalangeal joint and press against the proximal phalanx during flexion. Previous work on the fingers has shown that there is a “sesamoid” fibrocartilage on the deep surface of each tendon that labels immunohistochemically for a variety of glycosaminoglycans and collagens. However, we know little about the molecular composition of the tendon in the toes. This question is of special interest, because the mechanics of the interphalangeal joints differ in the upper and lower limbs—the toes balance the forefoot, distribute load during the gait cycle, and transmit the pull of larger muscles. This means that their extensor tendons are more often under higher tension than those in the fingers. Here, we report the presence of an equivalent fibrocartilage and compare its immunolabelling characteristics in all the toes. Six forefeet were removed from elderly cadavers, and the interphalangeal (IP) joints were fixed in 90% methanol. The extensor tendon and its enthesis were dissected out from the IP joint of the big toe and from the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint of all lesser toes, decalcified, cryosectioned, and immunolabelled with a panel of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies for type I, II, III, and VI collagens; chondroitin 4 and 6 sulphates; and dermatan and keratan sulphate. Antibody binding was detected with the Vectastain ABC Elite avidin-biotin-peroxidase kit (Vector Laboratories, Burlingame, CA). The extensor tendon in all the toes had a metachromatic, sesamoid fibrocartilage on its deep surface that immunolabelled for all glycosaminoglycans and for type I, III, and VI collagens. Labelling for type II collagen was seen in the sesamoid fibrocartilage of all toes but was particularly characteristic of the 2nd through 5th toes. The immunolabelling patterns of the enthesis fibrocartilage were similar in all toes and to results reported previously for fingers. The normal occurrence of type II collagen in the sesamoid fibrocartilage of the 2nd through 5th toes is in contrast to our published data on the fingers. The finding can be related to the more constant loading of the tendon in the toes. The greater prominence of type II collagen in the sesamoid fibrocartilage of the 2nd through 5th toes could be related to a difference in joint position during walking between the 1st toe and the 2nd through 5th toes—the PIP joints of the latter are usually more flexed than the IP joint of the former. Anat. Rec. 252:264–270, 1998. © 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.