Document Type


Publication Title

Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine


Background: The anterolateral ligament (ALL) has been identified as a structure on the lateral side of the knee, but debate exists regarding whether it is a capsular thickening or a ligament.

Hypothesis: A detailed ultrastructural characterization of the ALL and its ultrastructure collagen arrangement will reveal it more closely resembles ligamentous tissue than joint capsule.

Study design: Descriptive laboratory study.

Methods: Eight paired knee samples from 4 fresh-frozen male cadavers were used for this study. Samples were harvested from the ALL, the joint capsule, and the medial collateral ligament (MCL). All samples were evaluated with light microscopy (LM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and variable pressure scanning electron microscopy (VP-SEM). With LM, the 3 tissues were analyzed and their morphology described. With TEM, the ultrastructure and collagen characteristics were quantified and compared among specimens. Then, the 3-dimensional characteristics were compared with VP-SEM.

Results: Ultrastructure analysis demonstrated similar morphology between the ALL and MCL, with significant differences in these 2 structures as compared with the joint capsule. On LM, the ALL and MCL were characterized by the presence of a dense collagen fiber oriented in the longitudinal and transversal directions of the fiber bundles, while the joint capsule was found to have a more disorganized architecture. On TEM, the collagen fibers of the ALL and MCL demonstrated similar ultrastructural morphology, with both having collagen fibers in parallel, longitudinal alignment. A quantitative analysis was also performed, with the mean (± SD) diameter of fibrils in the ALL and MCL being 80 ± 2.66 nm and 150 ± 3.35 nm, respectively (all P < .001). The VP-SEM highlighted that ALL and MCL morphology demonstrated arrangements of fiber bundles that are densely packed and organized, in contrast to the disorganized fibers of the joint capsule.

Conclusion: The ALL and MCL have comparable ultrastructures that are distinctly different from the joint capsule, as visualized on LM, TEM, and VP-SEM.

Clinical relevance: The ALL should be considered a distinctive structure of the knee, although strictly connected to the surrounding capsule.



Publication Date



anterior cruciate ligament, anterolateral ligament, electron microscopy, ultrastructure