Multiscale mechanical effects of native collagen cross-linking in tendon

Jeremy D. Eekhoff, Fei Fang, Spencer P. Lake

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The hierarchical structure of tendon allows for attenuation of mechanical strain down decreasing length scales. While reorganization of collagen fibers accounts for microscale strain attenuation, cross-linking between collagen molecules contributes to deformation mechanisms at the fibrillar and molecular scales. Divalent and trivalent enzymatic cross-links form during the development of collagen fibrils through the enzymatic activity of lysyl oxidase (LOX). By establishing connections between telopeptidyl and triple-helical domains of adjacent molecules within collagen fibrils, these cross-links stiffen the fibrils by resisting intermolecular sliding. Ultimately, greater enzymatic cross-linking leads to less compliant and stronger tendon as a result of stiffer fibrils. In contrast, nonenzymatic cross-links such as glucosepane and pentosidine are not produced during development but slowly accumulate through glycation of collagen. Therefore, these cross-links are only expected to be present in significant quantities in advanced age, where there has been sufficient time for glycation to occur, and in diabetes, where the presence of more free sugar in the extracellular matrix increases the rate of glycation. Unlike enzymatic cross-links, current evidence suggests that nonenzymatic cross-links are at least partially isolated to the surface of collagen fibers. As a result, glycation has been proposed to primarily impact tendon mechanics by altering molecular interactions at the fiber interface, thereby diminishing sliding between fibers. Thus, increased nonenzymatic cross-linking decreases microscale strain attenuation and the viscous response of tendon. In conclusion, enzymatic and nonenzymatic collagen cross-links have demonstrable and distinct effects on the mechanical properties of tendon across different length scales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-422
Number of pages13
JournalConnective Tissue Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 3 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • AGEs
  • collagen cross-linking
  • glycation
  • lysyl oxidase
  • tendon biomechanics


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