In Vitro and In Vivo Performance of Tissue-Engineered Tendons for Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction

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Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction is the current standard of care for ACL tears. However, the results are not consistently successful; autografts or allografts have certain disadvantages; and synthetic grafts have had poor clinical results.


To determine if recellularization of decellularized tendons combined with mechanical stimulation in a bioreactor could replicate the mechanical properties of the native ACL and be successfully used for ACL reconstruction in vivo.

Study Design:

Controlled laboratory study.


Porcine tibialis tendons were decellularized and then recellularized with human adult bone marrow–derived stem cells. Tendons were cultured in a tissue bioreactor that provided biaxial cyclic loading for up to 7 days. To reproduce mechanical stresses similar to those experienced by the ACL within the knee joint, the tendons were subjected to simultaneous tension and torsion in the bioreactor. Expression of tendon-specific genes and newly synthesized collagen and glycosaminoglycan were used to quantify the efficacy of recellularization and dynamic bioreactor culture. The ultimate tensile load to failure and stiffness of recellularized constructs were measured after dynamic stimulation. Finally, the tissue-engineered tendons were used to reconstruct the ACL in 24 pigs, and ultimate tensile load to failure and stiffness were assessed after 3 months.


Dynamic bioreactor culture significantly increased the expression of tendon-specific genes, the quantity of newly synthesized collagen and glycosaminoglycan, and the ultimate tensile load and stiffness of recellularized tendons. After in vivo reconstruction, the ultimate tensile load and stiffness of the tissue-engineered tendons increased significantly up to 3 months after surgery and were within 80% of the ultimate tensile load of the natural ACL.


This translational study indicates that recellularization and dynamic mechanical stimuli can significantly enhance matrix synthesis and ultimate tensile load of decellularized porcine tibialis tendons. This approach to tissue engineering can be very useful for ACL reconstruction and may overcome some of the disadvantages of autografts and allografts.

Clinical Relevance:

Dynamic bioreactor cultivation of tissue-engineered tendons may overcome the limitations of autografts and allografts.

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