TrkA-mediated sensory innervation of injured mouse tendon supports tendon sheath progenitor cell expansion and tendon repair

Masnsen Cherief, Jiajia Xu, Zhao Li, Robert J. Tower, Sowmya Ramesh, Qizhi Qin, Mario Gomez-Salazar, Ji Hye Yea, Seungyong Lee, Stefano Negri, Mingxin Xu, Theodore Price, Adrian R. Kendal, Chen Ming Fan, Thomas L. Clemens, Benjamin Levi, Aaron W. James*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Peripheral neurons terminate at the surface of tendons partly to relay nociceptive pain signals; however, the role of peripheral nerves in tendon injury and repair remains unclear. Here, we show that after Achilles tendon injury in mice, there is new nerve growth near tendon cells that express nerve growth factor (NGF). Conditional deletion of the Ngf gene in either myeloid or mesenchymal mouse cells limited both innervation and tendon repair. Similarly, inhibition of the NGF receptor tropomyosin receptor kinase A (TrkA) abrogated tendon healing in mouse tendon injury. Sural nerve transection blocked the postinjury increase in tendon sensory innervation and the expansion of tendon sheath progenitor cells (TSPCs) expressing tubulin polymerization promoting protein family member 3. Single cell and spatial transcriptomics revealed that disruption of sensory innervation resulted in dysregulated inflammatory signaling and transforming growth factor–β (TGFβ) signaling in injured mouse tendon. Culture of mouse TSPCs with conditioned medium from dorsal root ganglia neuron further supported a role for neuronal mediators and TGFβ signaling in TSPC proliferation. Transcriptomic and histologic analyses of injured human tendon biopsy samples supported a role for innervation and TGFβ signaling in human tendon regeneration. Last, treating mice after tendon injury systemically with a small-molecule partial agonist of TrkA increased neurovascular response, TGFβ signaling, TSPC expansion, and tendon tissue repair. Although further studies should investigate the potential effects of denervation on mechanical loading of tendon, our results suggest that peripheral innervation is critical for the regenerative response after acute tendon injury.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereade4619
JournalScience Translational Medicine
Issue number727
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


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