From tusko to titin: The role for comparative physiology in an era of molecular discovery

S. L. Lindstedt, K. C. Nishikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


As we approach the centenary of the term “comparative physiology,” we reexamine its role in modern biology. Finding inspiration in Krogh’s classic 1929 paper, we first look back to some timeless contributions to the field. The obvious and fascinating variation among animals is much more evident than is their shared physiological unity, which transcends both body size and specific adaptations. The “unity in diversity” reveals general patterns and principles of physiology that are invisible when examining only one species. Next, we examine selected contemporary contributions to comparative physiology, which provides the context in which reductionist experiments are best interpreted. We discuss the sometimes surprising insights provided by two comparative “athletes” (pronghorn and rattlesnakes), which demonstrate 1) animals are not isolated molecular mechanisms but highly integrated physiological machines, a single “rate-limiting” step may be exceptional; and 2) extremes in nature are rarely the result of novel mechanisms, but rather employ existing solutions in novel ways. Furthermore, rattlesnake tailshaker muscle effectively abolished the conventional view of incompatibility of simultaneous sustained anaerobic glycolysis and oxidative ATP production. We end this review by looking forward, much as Krogh did, to suggest that a comparative approach may best lend insights in unraveling how skeletal muscle stores and recovers mechanical energy when operating cyclically. We discuss and speculate on the role of the largest known protein, titin (the third muscle filament), as a dynamic spring capable of storing and recovering elastic recoil potential energy in skeletal muscle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R983-R989
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 12 2015


  • Allometry
  • Connectin
  • Muscle activation
  • Muscle contraction
  • Muscular dystrophy with myositis (Mdm)
  • Winding filament hypothesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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