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J Muscle Res Cell Motil. 1997 Jun;18(3):381-93.

Polymerization of myosin on activation of rat anococcygeus smooth muscle.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester 01655, USA.


The in vivo state of assembly of myosin in vertebrate smooth muscle is controversial. In vitro studies on purified smooth muscle myosin show that it is monomeric (10S) under relaxing conditions and filamentous under contraction conditions. Electron microscopic and antibody labelling studies of intact smooth muscles, on the other hand, suggest that myosin is filamentous in the relaxed as well as the contracting state and that 10S myosin occurs only in trace amounts. However, birefringence, conventional EM and X-ray diffraction evidence suggests that in certain smooth muscles in vivo (e.g. rat anococcygeus), while myosin filaments exist in the relaxed state, their number increases on contraction. Here, we have used low temperature electron microscopic techniques (rapid freezing followed by freeze-substitution), which preserve labile components in close to their in vivo state, to detect any change in filament number on contraction. The results from rat anococcygeus have been compared with those from guinea pig taenia coli, in which other techniques have revealed no change in filament number. In the anococcygeus, we find evidence for a 23% increase in filament density in transverse sections of contracting muscle compared with relaxed muscle. In the taenia coli we find no change. These results are in qualitative agreement with earlier findings. They provide evidence for polymerization of myosin in contracting rat anococcygeus, and suggest that this process is subtle and occurs only in some smooth muscles.

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