In this second part of our study, the histomorphologic changes occurring in the patellar tendon (PT) of rats after sole stress-shielding were evaluated.
In seven adult albino rats, both PTs were exposed by straight skin incision and then stress-shielded on one side by a cerclage, while the contralateral PT served as the sham-operated control. One animal died after the operation and was used as a negative control. After 10 weeks of otherwise unrestricted motion, the rats were killed, and the histomorphology of all PT specimen pairs compared by light and transmission electron microscopy. Light microscopy showed mid-portion thickening and irregularity of collagen bundles in the stress-shielded tendons. Intense remodelling was demonstrated by increased cellularity and vascularity, as well as by enrichment in acidic proteoglycans. Ultrastructural evaluation and morphometry revealed a predominance of large diameter (peak between 180 and 260 nm) collagen fibrils in the sham-operated controls, while in the stressshielded tendons the number of apparently new, small-diameter (peak between 40 and 60 nm) collagen fibrils increased (up to 77% per cross-sectional field of view). The difference in peak diameters was statistically significant (p < 0.0005). This rat model demonstrated that sole stressshielding not only causes biomechanical alterations, but also intense tissue remodelling and significant morphological changes in the collagen fibrils in the patellar tendon, comparable to so-called ‘ligamentization’ in experimental and clinical patellar tendon grafts for anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.