Tendon injuries are common in both veterinary and human clinical patients and result in morbidity, pain, and lost athletic performance. Consequently, utilizing naturally occurring injuries in veterinary patients as a comparative model could inform the development of novel therapies and increase translation for the treatment of human tendon injuries. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have shown considerable efficacy for the treatment of experimental and clinical superficial digital flexor tendon injury in the horse; however, the reinjury rate following treatment can remain high and MSC efficacy in treating other tendons is less well known. Additionally, the translation of MSC therapy to human tendon injury has remained poor. Recent evidence indicates that naïve MSC function can be enhanced through exogenous stimulation or manipulation of their environment. This stimulation or activation, herein termed MSC licensing, markedly alters MSC functions associated with immunomodulation, extracellular matrix remodeling, vascular development, bioactive factor production, and endogenous stromal/progenitor cell support. Additionally, a variety of licensing strategies has proven to influence MSC-secreted factors that have positively influenced outcome parameters in both in vitro and in vivo disease models separate from musculoskeletal tissues. Therefore, identifying the optimal licensing strategy for MSCs could ultimately provide an avenue for reliable and repeatable treatment of a broad range of tendon injuries of both veterinary and human clinical patients. This article details current evidence on the effects of licensed MSCs in both in vitro and in vivo disease models of different species and provides commentary on how those effector functions identified may be translated to the treatment of tendon injuries.

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