Muscle function from organisms to molecules

Kiisa C. Nishikawa, Jenna A. Monroy, Uzma Tahir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Gaps in our understanding of muscle contraction at the molecular level limit the ability to predict in vivo muscle forces in humans and animals during natural movements. Because muscles function as motors, springs, brakes, or struts, it is not surprising that uncertainties remain as to how sarcomeres produce these different behaviors. Current theories fail to explain why a single extra stimulus, added shortly after the onset of a train of stimuli, doubles the rate of force development. When stretch and doublet stimulation are combined in a work loop, muscle force doubles and work increases by 50% per cycle, yet no theory explains why this occurs. Current theories also fail to predict persistent increases in force after stretch and decreases in force after shortening. Early studies suggested that all of the instantaneous elasticity of muscle resides in the cross-bridges. Subsequent cross-bridge models explained the increase in force during active stretch, but required ad hoc assumptions that are now thought to be unreasonable. Recent estimates suggest that cross-bridges account for only ~12% of the energy stored by muscles during active stretch. The inability of cross-bridges to account for the increase in force that persists after active stretching led to development of the sarcomere inhomogeneity theory. Nearly all predictions of this theory fail, yet the theory persists. In stretch-shortening cycles, muscles with similar activation and contractile properties function as motors or brakes. A change in the phase of activation relative to the phase of length changes can convert a muscle from a motor into a spring or brake. Based on these considerations, it is apparent that the current paradigm of muscle mechanics is incomplete. Recent advances in our understanding of giant muscle proteins, including twitchin and titin, allow us to expand our vision beyond cross-bridges to understand how muscles contribute to the biomechanics and control of movement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-206
Number of pages13
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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