Tendon Structure and Composition

  • Chavaunne T. Thorpe
  • Hazel R. C. Screen
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 920)


Tendons are soft, fibrous tissues that connect muscle to bone. Their main function is to transfer muscle generated force to the bony skeleton, facilitating movement around a joint, and as such they are relatively passive, inelastic structures, able to resist high forces. Tendons are predominantly composed of collagen, which is arranged in a hierarchical manner parallel to the long axis of the tendon, resulting in high tensile strength. Tendon also contains a range of non-collagenous proteins, present in low amounts, which nevertheless have important functional roles. In this chapter, we describe general tendon composition and structure, and discuss how variations in composition and structure at different levels of the tendon hierarchy confer specific mechanical properties, which are related to tendon function.


Collagen Fibril Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein Myotendinous Junction Tendon Structure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Banos CC, Thomas AH, Kuo CK (2008) Collagen fibrillogenesis in tendon development: current models and regulation of fibril assembly. Birth Defects Res Part C 84:228–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Barnard K, Light ND, Sims TJ, Bailey AJ (1987) Chemistry of the collagen cross-links. Origin and partial characterization of a putative mature cross-link of collagen. Biochem J 244:303–309CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Benjamin M, McGonagle D (2009) Entheses: tendon and ligament attachment sites. Scand J Med Sci Sports 19:520–527CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Birch HL (2007) Tendon matrix composition and turnover in relation to functional requirements. Int J Exp Pathol 88:241–248CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Canty EG, Kadler KE (2005) Procollagen trafficking, processing and fibrillogenesis. J Cell Sci 118:1341–1353CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Connizzo BK, Yannascoli SM, Soslowsky LJ (2013) Structure–function relationships of postnatal tendon development: a parallel to healing. Matrix Biol 32:106–116CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dyment N, Galloway J (2015) Regenerative biology of tendon: mechanisms for renewal and repair. Curr Mol Biol Rep 1:124–131CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ezura Y, Chakravarti S, Oldberg Å, Chervoneva I, Birk DE (2000) Differential expression of lumican and fibromodulin regulate collagen fibrillogenesis in developing mouse tendons. J Cell Biol 151:779–788CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Funakoshi T, Schmid T, Hsu H-P, Spector M (2008) Lubricin distribution in the goat infraspinatus tendon: a basis for interfascicular lubrication. J Bone Joint Surg 90:803–814CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Grant TM, Thompson MS, Urban J, Yu J (2013) Elastic fibres are broadly distributed in tendon and highly localized around tenocytes. J Anat 222:573–579CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Henninger HB, Valdez WR, Scott SA, Weiss JA (2015) Elastin governs the mechanical response of medial collateral ligament under shear and transverse tensile loading. Acta Biomater 25:304–312CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Isogai Z, Aspberg A, Keene DR, Ono RN, Reinhardt DP, Sakai LY (2002) Versican interacts with fibrillin-1 and links extracellular microfibrils to other connective tissue networks. J Biol Chem 277:4565–4572CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Järvinen TAH, Józsa L, Kannus P, Järvinen TLN, Hurme T, Kvist M, Pelto-Huikko M, Kalimo H, Järvinen M (2003) Mechanical loading regulates the expression of tenascin-C in the myotendinous junction and tendon but does not induce de novo synthesis in the skeletal muscle. J Cell Sci 116:857–866CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Kadler KE, Hojima Y, Prockop DJ (1990) Collagen fibrils in vitro grow from pointed tips in the C- to N-terminal direction. Biochem J 268:339–343CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kastelic J, Galeski A, Baer E (1978) The multicomposite structure of tendon. Connect Tissue Res 6:11–23CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kielty CM, Sherratt MJ, Shuttleworth CA (2002) Elastic fibres. J Cell Sci 115:2817–2828PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kjaer M (2004) Role of extracellular matrix in adaptation of tendon and skeletal muscle to mechanical loading. Physiol Rev 84:649–698CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Kjaer M, Langberg H, Heinemeier K, Bayer ML, Hansen M, Holm L, Doessing S, Kongsgaard M, Krogsgaard MR, Magnusson SP (2009) From mechanical loading to collagen synthesis, structural changes and function in human tendon. Scand J Med Sci Sports 19:500–510CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Knudsen AB, Larsen M, Mackey AL, Hjort M, Hansen KK, Qvortrup K, Kjær M, Krogsgaard MR (2015) The human myotendinous junction: an ultrastructural and 3D analysis study. Scand J Med Sci Sports 25:e116–e123CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kohrs RT, Zhao C, Sun Y-L, Jay GD, Zhang L, Warman ML, An K-N, Amadio PC (2011) Tendon fascicle gliding in wild type, heterozygous, and lubricin knockout mice. J Orthop Res 29:384–389CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    McNeilly CM, Banes AJ, Benjamin M, Ralphs JR (1996) Tendon cells in vivo form a three dimensional network of cell processes linked by gap junctions. J Anat 189:593–600PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Rees SG, Dent CM, Caterson B (2009) Metabolism of proteoglycans in tendon. Scand J Med Sci Sports 19:470–478CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Rigozzi S, Müller R, Stemmer A, Snedeker JG (2013) Tendon glycosaminoglycan proteoglycan sidechains promote collagen fibril sliding—AFM observations at the nanoscale. J Biomech 46:813–818CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Riley G (2004) The pathogenesis of tendinopathy. A molecular perspective. Rheumatology 43:131–142CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ritty TM, Roth R, Heuser JE (2003) Tendon cell array isolation reveals a previously unknown fibrillin-2-containing macromolecular assembly. Structure 11:1179–1188CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Smith RKW, Zunino L, Webbon PM, Heinegård D (1997) The distribution of Cartilage Oligomeric Matrix Protein (COMP) in tendon and its variation with tendon site, age and load. Matrix Biol 16:255–271CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Södersten F, Hultenby K, Heinegård D, Johnston C, Ekman S (2013) Immunolocalization of collagens (I and III) and cartilage oligomeric matrix protein in the normal and injured equine superficial digital flexor tendon. Connect Tissue Res 54:62–69CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Spiesz EM, Thorpe CT, Chaudhry S, Riley GP, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HRC (2015) Tendon extracellular matrix damage, degradation and inflammation in response to in vitro overload exercise. J Orthop Res 33:889–897CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Sun Y-L, Wei Z, Zhao C, Jay GD, Schmid TM, Amadio PC, An K-N (2015) Lubricin in human achilles tendon: the evidence of intratendinous sliding motion and shear force in achilles tendon. J Orthop Res 33:932–937CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Svensson L, Aszódi A, Heinegård D, Hunziker EB, Reinholt FP, Fässler R, Oldberg Å (2002) Cartilage oligomeric matrix protein-deficient mice have normal skeletal development. Mol Cell Biol 22:4366–4371CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Thorpe CT (2010) Extracellular matrix synthesis and degradation in functionally distinct tendons. In: Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science(ed). University College London, London, p 267Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Thorpe CT, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HRC (2013) The role of the non-collagenous matrix in tendon function. Int J Exp Pathol 94:248–259CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Thorpe CT, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HRC (2015) Chapter 1 – Tendon Physiology and Mechanical Behavior: Structure–Function Relationships. In: Gomes ME, Reis RL, Rodrigues MT (eds) Tendon regeneration. Academic, Boston, pp 3–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Thorpe CT, Chaudhry S, Lei II, Varone A, Riley GP, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HRC (2015) Tendon overload results in alterations in cell shape and increased markers of inflammation and matrix degradation. Scand J Med Sci Sports 25:e381–e391CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Thorpe CT, Clegg PD, Birch HL (2010) A review of tendon injury: why is the equine superficial digital flexor tendon most at risk? Equine Vet J 42:174–180CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Thorpe CT, Karunaseelan KJ, Ng Chieng Hin J, Riley GP, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HR (2016) Distribution of proteins within different compartments of tendon varies according to tendon type. J Anat doi: 10.1111/joa.12485 [Epub ahead of print]
  37. 37.
    Thorpe CT, Klemt C, Riley GP, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HR (2013) Helical sub-structures in energy-storing tendons provide a possible mechanism for efficient energy storage and return. Acta Biomater 9:7948–7956CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Thorpe CT, Streeter I, Pinchbeck GL, Goodship AE, Clegg PD, Birch HL (2010) Aspartic acid racemization and collagen degradation markers reveal an accumulation of damage in tendon collagen that is enhanced with aging. J Biol Chem 285:15674–15681CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Thorpe CT, Udeze CP, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HRC (2012) Specialization of tendon mechanical properties results from interfascicular differences. J R Soc Interface 9:3108–3117CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Thorpe CT, Udeze CP, Birch HL, Clegg PD, Screen HRC (2013) Capacity for sliding between tendon fascicles decreases with ageing in injury prone equine tendons: a possible mechanism for age-related tendinopathy? Eur Cells Mater 25:48–60Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Zhang G, Chen S, Goldoni S, Calder BW, Simpson HC, Owens RT, McQuillan DJ, Young MF, Iozzo RV, Birk DE (2009) Genetic evidence for the coordinated regulation of collagen fibrillogenesis in the cornea by decorin and biglycan. J Biol Chem 284:8888–8897CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Bioengineering, School of Engineering and Materials ScienceQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations