Supercontracting muscle: Producing tension over extreme muscle lengths

Anthony Herrel, Jay J. Meyers, Jean Pierre Timmermans, Kiisa C. Nishikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Muscle mechanics dictates a trade-off between the ability of a muscle to generate isometric force and its length. This intrinsic trade-off is the result of the need for overlap between thick and thin filaments upon extension of the sarcomere and of the limitations imposed by the physical interference between the thin filaments and the thick filaments with the Z-disk upon contraction. However, previously published data indicate that chameleons are able to produce a nearly constant tongue retraction force over a wide range of tongue extension lengths, made possible by the presence of supercontracting muscle in the tongue retractors. Investigation of the length/tension properties and ultrastructure of the tongue retractor in a closely related agamid lizard (Pogona vitticeps) indicates that the ability to generate tension at extreme elongation is probably a derived feature for chameleons. Whereas chameleons are unique among vertebrates in possessing supercontracting muscle, this seems to be a common phenomenon in invertebrates. However, the presence of supercontracting muscle in chameleons and in several invertebrate groups seems to be coupled to the need to generate tension over large changes in muscle length and might be a more general solution for this problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2167-2173
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - 2002


  • Contractile properties
  • Lizard
  • Muscle
  • Supercontraction
  • Transmission electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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