Overuse tendon injuries are common among elite and recreational athletes. Tendon healing may be enhanced at the cellular level through the use of exogenous growth factors; however, little is known about the endogenous expression of growth factors in healing tendon. This study describes the temporal expression of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1), and collagen types I and III in healing tendon lesions. Collagenase-induced lesions were created in the tensile region of the flexor digitorum superficialis tendon of both forelimbs of 14 horses. Tendons were harvested from euthanatized horses 1, 2, 4, 8 or 24 weeks following injury. Gene expression was evaluated using Northern blot analysis (collagen types I and III), real time PCR (IGF-I and TGF-β1), and in situ hybridization. Protein content was assayed by dye-binding assay (collagen types I and III), radioimmunoassay (IGF-I), ELISA (TGF-β1), and immunohistochemistry. Samples were also processed for differential collagen typing. DNA and glycosaminoglycan content, and routine H&E staining. Microscopically, lesions progressed from an amorphous, acellular lesion soon after injury to scar tissue filled with collagen fibers and mature fibroblasts organized along lines of tension. Early lesions were characterized by immediate increases in expression of growth factors and collagen. Message levels for TGF-β1 peaked early in the wound healing process (1 week), while IGF-I peaked later (4 weeks), as the regenerative phase of healing was progressing. In the first 2 weeks after lesion induction, tissue levels of IGF-I protein actually decreased approximately 40% compared to normal tendon. By 4 weeks, these levels had exceeded those of normal tendon and remained elevated through 8 weeks. Message expression for collagen types I and III increased by 1 week following injury and remained elevated throughout the course of the study. Collagen type I represented the major type of collagen in healing tendon at all time points of the study. Based on these results, IGF-I, administered exogenously during the first 2 weeks following injury, may provide a therapeutic advantage by bolstering low endogenous tissue levels and enhancing the metabolic response of individual tendon fibroblasts. © 2004 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.