Tendon and ligament fibrillar crimps give rise to left-handed helices of collagen fibrils in both planar and helical crimps, 2010

Topics: collagen handedness; fibrillar crimp; helical crimps; ligament; planar crimps; tendon

Authors: Marco Franchi, Vittoria Ottani, Rita Stagni and Alessandro Ruggeri


Collagen fibres in tendons and ligaments run straight but in some regions they show crimps which disappear or appear more flattened during the initial elongation of tissues. Each crimp is formed of collagen fibrils showing knots or fibrillar crimps at the crimp top angle. The present study analyzes by polarized light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy the 3D morphology of fibrillar crimp in tendons and ligaments of rat demonstrating that each fibril in the fibrillar region always twists leftwards changing the plane of running and sharply bends modifying the course on a new plane. The morphology of fibrillar crimp in stretched tendons fulfills the mechanical role of the fibrillar crimp acting as a particular knot/biological hinge in absorbing tension forces during fibril strengthening and recoiling collagen fibres when stretching is removed. The left-handed path of fibrils in the fibrillar crimp region gives rise to left-handed fibril helices observed both in isolated fibrils and sections of different tendons and ligaments (flexor digitorum profundus muscle tendon, Achilles tendon, tail tendon, patellar ligament and medial collateral ligament of the knee). The left-handed path of fibrils represents a new final suprafibrillar level of the alternating handedness which was previously described only from the molecular to the microfibrillar level. When the width of the twisting angle in the fibrillar crimp is nearly 180 degrees the fibrils appear as left-handed flattened helices forming crimped collagen fibres previously described as planar crimps. When fibrils twist with different subsequent rotational angles (< 180 degrees ) they always assume a left-helical course but, running in many different nonplanar planes, they form wider helical crimped fibres.

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