Expression of Signaling Molecules Involved in Embryonic Development of the Insertion Site Is Inadequate for Reformation of the Native Enthesis: Evaluation in a Novel Murine ACL Reconstruction Model

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Abstract

Background:

Since healing of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) grafts occurs by formation of a fibrovascular scar-tissue interface rather than by reformation of the native fibrocartilage transition zone, the purpose of our study was to examine expression of various signaling molecules and transcription factors that are known to be involved in embryologic insertion-site development following ACL reconstruction. We also aimed to characterize a murine model of ACL reconstruction to allow future study of the molecular mechanisms of healing.

Methods:

Seventy-nine mice underwent reconstruction of the ACL with autograft. Healing was assessed using histology in 12 mice and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) gene-expression analysis in 3 mice at 1 week postoperatively (Group-1 mice) and by biomechanical analysis in 7, histological analysis in 7, immunohistochemical analysis in 5, microcomputed tomography analysis in 5, and qRT-PCR analyses in 8 at 2 weeks (Group-2 mice) and 4 weeks (Group-3 mice) postoperatively. Fifteen additional mice did not undergo surgery and were used for biomechanical (7 mice), qRT-PCR (3 mice), and immunohistochemical (5 mice) analyses to obtain baseline data for the native ACL.

Results:

Histological analysis demonstrated healing by formation of fibrovascular tissue at the tendon-bone interface. Immunohistochemical analysis showed a positive expression of proteins in the Indian hedgehog, Wnt, and parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) pathways. There was minimal Sox-9 expression. Gene-expression analysis showed an initial increase in markers of tissue repair and turnover, followed by a subsequent decline. Mean failure force and stiffness of the native ACL were 5.60 N and 3.44 N/mm, respectively. Mean failure force and stiffness were 1.29 N and 2.28 N/mm, respectively, in Group 2 and were 1.79 N and 2.59 N/mm, respectively, in Group 3, with 12 of 14 failures in these study groups occurring by tunnel pull-out.

Conclusions:

The spatial and temporal pattern of expression of signaling molecules that direct embryologic insertion-site formation was not adequate to restore the structure and composition of the native insertion site.

Clinical Relevance:

Development of a murine model to study ACL reconstruction will allow the use of transgenic animals to investigate the cellular, molecular, and biomechanical aspects of tendon-to-bone healing following ACL reconstruction, ultimately suggesting methods to improve healing in patients.

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