Musculoskeletal soft tissue repair is often a slow process that may be complicated by aging, thus we investigated the mitogenic response of young and old rat patellar tendon (PT) explants to platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB). Bilateral PT explants from young (4 months) and old (29 or 36 months) rats of two strains (Fisher 344 and Fisher-Brown-Norway) were cultured for 72 h in platelet-poor horse serum in the presence or absence of 100 ng/ml recombinant human PDGF-AB. The explants were radiolabelled with [3H]-TdR for the final 24 h in culture. Tendon cellularity and DNA synthesis data were analyzed by multiple factor ANOVA (age, strain, and side), Mann-Whitney t-test (cellularity and DNA synthesis), and a sign test (proliferative response to PDGF). Tendon cellularity declined significantly with age in both strains (p < 0.05), while both young and old patellar tendon fibroblasts in both strains had a significant (> 100%) increase in DNA synthesis with the addition of PDGF (p < 0.05). Although there was a trend to lower proliferative responses in older tendons, the differences were not significant. Autoradiographic analysis of labeling indices in F344 tendons showed a diminished responsiveness to PDGF (p < 0.04, ANOVA). Strain and side response on a per cell or tissue weight basis were not significant factors. Under appropriate experimental conditions, these two animal models of aging showed declines in responses to high levels of PDGF, suggesting that the PT reflects an age-dependent diminished capacity for wound repair.