Kelsey A. Robinson, Mei Sun, Carrie E. Barnum, Stephanie N. Weiss, Julianne Huegel, Snehal S. Shetye, Linda Lin, Daniel Saez, Sheila M. Adams, Renato V. Iozzo, Louis J. Soslowskya, David E. Birk
The small leucine-rich proteoglycans (SLRPs), decorin and biglycan, are key regulators of collagen fibril and matrix assembly. The goal of this work was to elucidate the roles of decorin and biglycan in tendon homeostasis. Our central hypothesis is that decorin and biglycan expression in the mature tendon would be critical for the maintenance of the structural and mechanical properties of healthy tendons. Defining the function(s) of these SLRPs in tendon homeostasis requires that effects in the mature tendon be isolated from their influence on development. Thus, we generated an inducible knockout mouse model that permits genetic ablation of decorin and biglycan expression in the mature tendon, while maintaining normal expression during development. Decorin and biglycan expression were knocked out in the mature patellar tendon with the subsequent turnover of endogenous SLRPs deposited prior to induction. The acute absence of SLRP expression was associated with changes in fibril structure with a general shift to larger diameter fibrils in the compound knockout tendons, together with fibril diameter heterogeneity. In addition, tendon mechanical properties were altered. Compared to wild-type controls, acute ablation of both genes resulted in failure of the tendon at lower loads, decreased stiffness, a trend towards decreased dynamic modulus, as well as a significant increase in percent relaxation and tissue viscosity. Collagen fiber realignment was also increased with a delayed and slower in response to load in the absence of expression. These structural and functional changes in response to an acute loss of decorin and biglycan expression in the mature tendon demonstrate a significant role for these SLRPs in adult tendon homeostasis.