Mechanical properties of human patellar tendon at the hierarchical levels of tendon and fibril, 2012

Topics: atomic force microscopy; collagen; fibril dimensions; modulus; toe region

Authors: René B. Svensson, Philip Hansen, Tue Hassenkam, Bjarki T. Haraldsson, Per Aagaard, Vuokko Kovanen, Michael Krogsgaard, Michael Kjaer and S. Peter Magnusson


Tendons are strong hierarchical structures, but how tensile forces are transmitted between different levels remains incompletely understood. Collagen fibrils are thought to be primary determinants of whole tendon properties, and therefore we hypothesized that the whole human patellar tendon and its distinct collagen fibrils would display similar mechanical properties. Human patellar tendons (n = 5) were mechanically tested in vivo by ultrasonography. Biopsies were obtained from each tendon, and individual collagen fibrils were dissected and tested mechanically by atomic force microscopy. The Young’s modulus was 2.0 ± 0.5 GPa, and the toe region reached 3.3 ± 1.9% strain in whole patellar tendons. Based on dry cross-sectional area, the Young’s modulus of isolated collagen fibrils was 2.8 ± 0.3 GPa, and the toe region reached 0.86 ± 0.08% strain. The measured fibril modulus was insufficient to account for the modulus of the tendon in vivo when fibril content in the tendon was accounted for. Thus, our original hypothesis was not supported, although the in vitro fibril modulus corresponded well with reported in vitro tendon values. This correspondence together with the fibril modulus not being greater than that of tendon supports that fibrillar rather than interfibrillar properties govern the subfailure tendon response, making the fibrillar level a meaningful target of intervention. The lower modulus found in vitro suggests a possible adverse effect of removing the tissue from its natural environment. In addition to the primary work comparing the two hierarchical levels, we also verified the existence of viscoelastic behavior in isolated human collagen fibrils.

Related research articles