Mechanical loading increases the strength of healing tendons, but also induces small localized bleedings. Therefore, it is unclear if increased strength after loading is a response to mechanotransduction or microtrauma. We have previously found only five genes to be up-regulated 15 min after a single loading episode, of them four were transcription factors. These genes are followed by hundreds of genes after 3 h, many of them involved in inflammation. We now compared healing in mechanically unloaded tendons with or without added microtrauma induced by needling of the healing tissue. Nineteen rats received Botox into the calf muscle to reduce loading, and the Achilles tendon was transected. Ten rats were randomized to needling days 2-5. Mechanical testing on day 8 showed increased strength by 45% in the needling group. Next, another 24 rats were similarly unloaded, and 16 randomized to needling on day 5 after transection. Nineteen characteristic genes, known to be regulated by loading in this model, were analyzed by qRT-PCR. Four of these genes were regulated 15 min after needling. Three of them (Egr1, c-Fos, Rgs1) were among the five regulated genes after loading in a previous study. Sixteen of the 19 genes were regulated after 3 h, in the same way as after loading. In conclusion, needling increased strength, and there was a striking similarity between the gene expression response to needling and mechanical loading. This suggests that the response to loading in early tendon healing can, at least in part, be a response to microtrauma.
Journal of Applied Physiology (bethesda, Md. : 1985), 2014, Vol 116, Issue 1, p. 54-60