The aim of the present study was to clarify the presence and determine the role of apoptosis in the degenerative process of the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) in the horse. Samples were obtained from normal and inflamed SDFTs of horses. To detect apoptosis and to identify apoptotic cells, the samples were subjected to immunohistochemical labelling and Western blot analysis. Although a large number of cells in degenerate areas showed positive reactions with caspase-3 and single stranded DNA antibodies, cells in normal tendon samples showed very weak reactions. Excessive apoptosis was confirmed by the results of Western blot analysis, which showed a significant increase in activated caspase-3 protein in the inflamed SDFTs, suggesting that apoptosis occurred in the tendinocytes via a caspase-3-dependent pathway. This is the first report of excessive apoptosis in inflamed SDFT of the horse. The results indicate that apoptosis may play an important role in the process of degeneration of the tendon as well as other tissues. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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