Effects of freeze-thaw on the biomechanical and structural properties of the rat Achilles tendon

N. P. Quirk, C. Lopez De Padilla, R. E. De La Vega, M. J. Coenen, A. Tovar, C. H. Evans, S. A. Müller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Rodent models are commonly used to investigate tendon healing, with the biomechanical and structural properties of the healed tendons being important outcome measures. Tendon storage for later testing becomes necessary when performing large experiments with multiple time-points. However, it is unclear whether freezing rodent tendons affects their material properties. Thus the aim of this study was to determine whether freezing rat Achilles tendons affects their biomechanical or structural properties. Tendons were frozen at either −20 °C or −80 °C directly after harvesting, or tested when freshly harvested. Groups of tendons were subjected to several freeze-thaw cycles (1, 2, and 5) within 3 months, or frozen for 9 months, after which the tendons were subjected to biomechanical testing. Additionally, fresh and thawed tendons were compared morphologically, histologically and by transmission electron microscopy. No major differences in biomechanical properties were found between fresh tendons and those frozen once or twice at −20 °C or −80 °C. However, deterioration of tendon properties was found for 5-cycle groups and both long-term freezing groups; after 9 months of freezing at −80 °C the tear resistance of the tendon was reduced from 125.4 ± 16.4N to 74.3 ± 18.4N (p = 0.0132). Moreover, tendons stored under these conditions showed major disruption of collagen fibrils when examined by transmission electron microscopy. When examined histologically, fresh samples exhibited the best cellularity and proteoglycan content of the enthesis. These properties were preserved better after freezing at −80 °C than after freezing at −20 °C, which resulted in markedly smaller chondrocytes and less proteoglycan content. Overall, the best preservation of histological integrity was seen with tendons frozen once at −80 °C. In conclusion, rat Achilles tendons can be frozen once or twice for short periods of time (up to 3 months) at −20 °C or −80 °C for later testing. However, freezing for 9 months at either −20 °C or −80 °C leads to deterioration of certain parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-57
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
StatePublished - Nov 16 2018


  • Biomechanical testing
  • Freeze-thaw
  • Histology
  • Rat Achilles tendon
  • Ultra-structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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