Carbon-14 bomb pulse dating shows that tendinopathy is preceded by years of abnormally high collagen turnover

Katja Maria Heinemeier, Peter Schjerling, Tommy F. Øhlenschlæger, Christian Eismark, Jesper Olsen, Michael Kjær
  • The FASEB Journal, September 2018, Federation of American Societies For Experimental Biology (FASEB)
  • DOI: 10.1096/fj.201701569r

What is it about?

Tendons, such as the Achilles tendon, connect muscle to bone and are essential for transferring force to the skeleton during movement. Tendons are made of a network of collagen proteins that can withstand very high forces. We have previously shown that this collagen network is permanent once it is formed during childhood and adolescence. This is different from most other tissues that have continuous replacement of proteins. The lack of collagen replacement in tendons was discovered by tracing carbon-14, which was released to the atmosphere from nuclear bomb tests performed during the cold war (1953-64). The high carbon-14 levels occurring during this period could be traced in healthy human Achilles tendons many years later, giving evidence of very little renewal of the tissue. In the present study, we have used the same method to investigate if tendon disease (tendinopathy) could lead to a greater rate of collagen replacement during life. Tendinopathy is an overuse condition, which leads to pain in tendons and keeps many people from physical activity. We measured levels of carbon-14 in 25 tendinopathic and 10 healthy Achilles tendons, and found a clear difference between healthy and diseased tissue. The levels of carbon-14 showed that the diseased tendons had a greater rate of collagen replacement and that this increased replacement had been going on for many years before the patients experienced symptoms of tendinopathy. This suggests either a very long disease process, or alternatively, that high rates of collagen replacement may be a risk factor for tendinopathy.

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