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The structure and functional significance of variations in the connective tissue within muscle.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK.


The amount of intramuscular connective tissue (IMCT) and its morphological distribution is highly variable between muscles of differing function. The functional roles of this component of muscle have been poorly understood, but a picture is gradually emerging of the central role this component has in growth, transmission of mechanical signals to muscle cells and co-ordination of forces between fibres within a muscle. The aim of this review is to highlight recent advances that begin to show the functional significance of some of the variability in IMCT. IMCT has a number of clearly defined roles. It patterns muscle development and innervation, and mechanically integrates the tissue. In developing muscles, proliferation and growth of muscle cells is stimulated and guided by cell-matrix interactions. Recent work has shown that the topography of collagen fibres is an important signal. The timing and rates of expression of connective tissue proteins also show differences between muscles. Discussion of mechanical roles for IMCT has traditionally been limited to the passive elastic response of muscle. However, it is now clear that IMCT provides a matrix to integrate the contractile function of the whole tissue. Mechanical forces are co-ordinated and passed between adjacent muscle cells via cell-matrix interactions and the endomysial connective tissue that links the cells together. An emerging concept is that division of a muscle into fascicles by the perimysial connective tissue is related to the need to accommodate shear strains as muscles change shape during contraction and extension.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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