Rotator cuff repair is known to have a high failure rate. Little is known about the natural healing process of the rotator cuff repair site, hence little can be done to improve the tendon's ability to heal. The purpose of this study was to investigate the collagen formation at the early repair site and to localize TGFβ-1 and 3 during early healing and compare their levels to cell proliferation and histological changes. Bilateral supraspinatus tendons were transacted and repaired in 60 rats. Specimens were harvested and evaluated at 0, 1, 3, 7, 10, 28, and 56 days. Histological sections were evaluated for cell morphology. Immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization was performed to localize protein and mRNA for collagen types I and III and TGFβ-1 and 3. Proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) assay was performed to measure cell proliferation, and cells were counted to determine cell density. Biomechanical properties were evaluated. Repair tissue demonstrated an initial inflammatory response with multinucleated cells present at 1 and 3 days, and lymphocytes and plasma cells presents at 7 and 10 days. Capillary proliferation began at 3 days and peaked at 10 days. Ultimate force increased significantly over the time period studied. Collagen I protein and mRNA significantly increased at 10 days, and reached a plateau by 28 and 56 days. Collagen III showed a similar trend, with an early increase, and remained high until 56 days. TGFβ-1 was localized to the forming scar tissue and showed a distinct peak at 10 days. TGFβ-3 was not seen at the healing insertion site. Cell proliferation and density followed the same trend as TGFβ-1. A wound healing response does occur at the healing rotator cuff insertion site, however, the characteristics of the tendon after healing differ significantly from the uninjured tendon insertion site at the longest time-point studied. A distinctive collagen remodeling process occurred with an initial increase in the formation of collagen types I and III followed by a decrease toward baseline levels seen at time 0. Growth factor TGFβ-1 was localized to repair tissue and coincided with a peak in cell proliferation and cellularity. Repair sites remained unorganized histologically and biomechanically inferior in comparison to previously described uninjured insertion sites.
- Insertion site