Ageing changes in the tensile properties of tendons: influence of collagen fibril volume fraction

K. L. Goh, D. F. Holmes, H. Y. Lu, S. Richardson, K. E. Kadler, P. P. Purslow, T. J. Wess

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Connective tissues are biological composites comprising of collagen fibrils embedded in (and reinforcing) the hydrated proteoglycan-rich (PG) gel within the extracellular matrices (ECMs). Age-related changes to the mechanical properties of tissues are often associated with changes to the structure of the ECM, namely, fibril diameter. However, quantitative attempts to correlate fibril diameter to mechanical properties have yielded inconclusive evidence. Here, we described a novel approach that was based on the rule of mixtures for fiber composites to evaluate the dependence of age-related changes in tendon tensile strength (sigma) and stiffness (E) on the collagen fibril cross-sectional area fraction (rho), which is related to the fibril volume fraction. Tail tendons from C57BL6 mice from age groups 1.6-35.3 months old were stretched to failure to determine sigma and E. Parallel measurements of rho as a function of age were made using transmission electron microscopy. Mathematical models (rule of mixtures) of fibrils reinforcing a PG gel in tendons were used to investigate the influence of rho on ageing changes in sigma and E. The magnitudes of sigma, E, and rho increased rapidly from 1.6 months to 4.0 months (P-values <0.05) before reaching a constant (age independent) from 4.0 months to 29.0 months (P-values >0.05); this trend continued for E and rho (P-values >0.05) from 29.0 months to 35.3 months, but not for sigma, which decreased gradually (P-values <0.05). Linear regression analysis revealed that age-related changes in sigma and E correlated positively to rho (P-values <0.05). Collagen fibril cross-sectional area fraction rho is a significant predictor of ageing changes in sigma and E in the tail tendons of C57BL6 mice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number021011
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Biomechanical Engineering
Issue number2
Early online date31 Mar 2008
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Collagen/physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tendons/physiology
  • Tensile Strength


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