In vivo identity of tendon stem cells and the roles of stem cells in tendon healing

Qi Tan, Pauline Po Yee Lui, Yuk Wa Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


We investigated the spatial distribution of stem cells in tendons and the roles of stem cells in early tendon repair. The relationship between tendon-derived stem cells (TDSCs) isolated in vitro and tendon stem cells in vivo was also explored. Iododeoxyuridine (IdU) label-retaining method was used for labeling stem cells in rat patellar tendons with and without injury. Co-localization of label-retaining cells (LRCs) with different markers was done by immunofluorescent staining. TDSCs were isolated from patellar tendon mid-substance after IdU pulsing, and the expression of different markers in fresh and expanded cells was done by immunofluorescent staining. More LRCs were found at the peritenon and tendon-bone junction compared with the mid-substance. Some LRCs at the peritenon were located at the perivascular niche. The LRC number and the expression of proliferative, tendon-related, pluripotency, and pericyte-related markers in LRCs in the window wound increased. Most of the freshly isolated TDSCs expressed IdU, and some TDSCs expressed pericyte-related markers, which were lost during expansion. Both freshly isolated and subcultured TDSCs expressed pluripotency markers, which were absent in LRCs in intact tendons. In conclusion, we identified LRCs at the peritenon, mid-substance, and tendon-bone junction. There were both vascular and non-vascular sources of LRCs at the peritenon, while the source of LRCs at the mid-substance was non-vascular. LRCs participated in tendon repair via migration, proliferation, activation for tenogenesis, and increased pluripotency. Some LRCs in the window wound were pericyte like. Most of the mid-substance TDSCs were LRCs. The pluripotency markers and pericyte-related marker in LRCs might be important for function after injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3128-3140
Number of pages13
JournalStem Cells and Development
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


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