• bio-artificial tendon;
  • tendon;
  • collagen;
  • fibril;
  • development;
  • mechanical properties;
  • electron microscopy;
  • 3D-reconstruction;
  • tension;
  • elasticity


A distinctive feature of embryonic tendon development is the steady increase in collagen fibril diameter and associated improvement of tissue mechanical properties. A potential mechanical stimulus for these changes is slow stretching of the tendon during limb growth. Testing this hypothesis in vivo is complicated by the presence of other developmental processes including muscle development and innervation. Here we used a cell culture tendon-like construct to determine if slow stretch can explain the increases in fibril diameter and mechanical properties that are observed in vivo. Non-stretched constructs had an ultrastructural appearance and mechanical properties similar to those of early embryonic tendon. However, slowly stretching during 4 days in culture increased collagen fibril diameter, fibril packing volume, and mechanical stiffness, and thereby mimicked embryonic development. 3D EM showed cells with improved longitudinal alignment and elongated nuclei, which raises the hypothesis that nuclear deformation could be a novel mechanism during tendon development. Developmental Dynamics 240:2520–2528, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.