During physiological loading, a tendon is subjected to tensile strains in the region of up to 6 per cent. These strains are reportedly transmitted to cells, potentially initiating specific mechanotransduction pathways. The present study examines the local strain fields within tendon fascicles subjected to tensile strain in order to determine the mechanisms responsible for fascicle extension. A hierarchical approach to the analysis was adopted, involving micro and macro examination. Micro examination was carried out using a custom-designed rig, to enable the analysis of local tissue strains in isolated fascicles, using the cell nuclei as strain markers. In macro examination, a video camera was used to record images of the fascicles during mechanical testing, highlighting the point of crimp straightening and macro failure. Results revealed that local tensile strains within a collagen fibre were consistently smaller than the applied strain and showed no further increase once fibres were aligned. By contrast, between-group displacements, a measure of fibre sliding, continued to increase beyond crimp straightening, reaching a mean value of 3.9 per cent of the applied displacement at 8 per cent strain. Macro analysis displayed crimp straightening at a mean load of 1 N and sample failure occurred through the slow unravelling of the collagen fibres. Fibre sliding appears to provide the major mechanism enabling tendon fascicle extension within the rat-tail tendon. This process will necessarily affect local and cellular strains and consequently mechanotransduction pathways.
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