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Lack of tissue renewal in human adult Achilles tendon is revealed by nuclear bomb (14)C

updated

Tags: etiology, neat, tendinosis, overuse injury, biology, fun, pro, pain problems, injury

Three articles on PainSci cite Heinemeier 2013: (1) Deep Friction Massage Therapy for Tendinitis(2) Repetitive Strain Injuries Tutorial(3) Achilles Tendinitis Treatment Science

PainSci summary of Heinemeier 2013: ?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided at the bottom of the page, as often as possible.

There is basically no turnover in tendon tissue in adults (as measured in the Achilles tendon in this experiment).

And how do we know this? Because NUKULAR BOMBAS! The atomic signatures of the era of nuclear bomb testing are still written into the tendons of people who were alive at the time, trapped like bubbles of ancient air in an ice core.

Incredible. Very cool science. Indeed, probably the coolest tendon study that has ever been or ever will be.

UPDATE: This finding was confirmed for healthy tendon in a later study. But in un-healthy tendon? That’s a different story. There is turnover there! Which is hard to interpret. See Heinemeier et al.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Tendons are often injured and heal poorly. Whether this is caused by a slow tissue turnover is unknown, since existing data provide diverging estimates of tendon protein half-life that range from 2 mo to 200 yr. With the purpose of determining life-long turnover of human tendon tissue, we used the (14)C bomb-pulse method. This method takes advantage of the dramatic increase in atmospheric levels of (14)C, produced by nuclear bomb tests in 1955-1963, which is reflected in all living organisms. Levels of (14)C were measured in 28 forensic samples of Achilles tendon core and 4 skeletal muscle samples (donor birth years 1945-1983) with accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and compared to known atmospheric levels to estimate tissue turnover. We found that Achilles tendon tissue retained levels of (14)C corresponding to atmospheric levels several decades before tissue sampling, demonstrating a very limited tissue turnover. The tendon concentrations of (14)C approximately reflected the atmospheric levels present during the first 17 yr of life, indicating that the tendon core is formed during height growth and is essentially not renewed thereafter. In contrast, (14)C levels in muscle indicated continuous turnover. Our observation provides a fundamental premise for understanding tendon function and pathology, and likely explains the poor regenerative capacity of tendon tissue.

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