Due to the presence of titin, muscles are innately elastic. Skeletal muscles are attached to bones via tendons that maintain the muscle under a constant level of stretch called the resting length. If this attachment was removed, for example if the bicep was detached from the scapula or radius, the muscle would shorten in length.

Muscles exist in this state to optimize the force produced during contraction, which is modulated by the interlaced myofilaments of the sarcomere. When a sarcomere contracts, myosin heads attach to actin to form cross-bridges. Then, the thin filaments slide over the thick filaments as the heads pull the actin. This results in sarcomere shortening, creating the tension of the muscle contraction. If a sarcomere is stretched too far, there will be insufficient overlap of the myofilaments and the less force will be produced. If the muscle is over-contracted, the potential for further contraction is reduced, which in turn reduces the amount of force produced.

Simply put,  the tension generated in skeletal muscle is a function of the magnitude of overlap between actin and myosin myofilaments.

In mammals, there is a strong overlap between the optimum and actual resting length of sarcomeres.

The force-velocity relationship in muscle relates the speed at which a muscle changes length with the force of this contraction and the resultant power output (force x velocity = power). The force generated by a muscle depends on the number of actin and myosin cross-bridges formed; a larger number of cross-bridges results in a larger amount of force. However, cross-bridge formation is not immediate, so if myofilaments slide over each other at a faster rate the ability to form cross bridges and resultant force are both reduced.

At maximum velocity no cross-bridges can form, so no force is generated, resulting in the production of zero power (right edge of graph). The reverse is true for stretching of muscle. Although the force of the muscle is increased, there is no velocity of contraction and zero power is generated (left edge of graph). Maximum power is generated at approximately one-third of maximum shortening velocity.

The main regulator of muscle tone is the muscle spindle, a small sensory unit that is closely associated with and lies parallel to a muscle. Connecting to the endomysium of a muscle fiber, muscle spindles are composed of nuclear bag fibers and nuclear chain fibers. Both are similar to muscle fibers in that they contain actin and myosin myofilaments that allow them to stretch with the muscle. However, unlike skeletal muscle fibers where the nuclei are spread out and located at the periphery of the cell, in nuclear bag and nuclear chain fibers the nuclei are located in a central region which is enlarged in nuclear bag fibers.

Both cells of the muscle spindle contain sensory neurons. When stretched, muscle spindles become activated, triggering impulses to the spinal cord that can generate an immediate reflex. Spindles can also trigger impulses to the cerebral cortex providing information about the degree of stretch…


No comments have yet been made