Tail tendons from Fischer and Sprague-Dawly albino rats of ages from 2 weeks to 3 years were investigated under the polarizing microscope as regards structure and deformation behaviour. Periodically extinguishing bands were observed along the otherwise featureless tendons. By analysing the behaviour of this extinction pattern under appropriate rotations of the tendon, it could be deduced that the orientation of the basic birefringent units varies periodically along the tendon and that this periodic pattern corresponds to a planar arrangement of the anisotropic entities. All the relevant parameters of this periodic structure could be determined in a representative manner from polarizing optics alone.
Subdivision of the tendons revealed regularly undulating or rather crimped subunits in good correspondence to what has been deduced from the extinction bands in the intact tendons.
The crimp angle was found to decrease while the periodicity increased - in approximate proportion to the length of the tail - with the age of the rat implying constancy of crimp number during the life time of the animal.
On elongation the periodicity was gradually removed. The calculated fibre elongation necessary to eliminate the crimp was in good agreement with observation for mature rats but was larger for young rats implying the simultaneous stretching of the fibre itself.
Stress-strain properties of tendons were measured and models for crimp straightening were tested. It was found that a model containing inflexible hinges, corresponding to the ‘elastica’ problem in mechanics gave reasonable fit with experiment. Analysis of stress-strain data on this basis leads to a basic load bearing unit, the diameter of which increases from 100 to 500 nm with the age of the animal.
Implications of these findings for the structure and properties of the tendons, also in relation to ageing are pointed out.