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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1992 Apr;70(4):515-31.

The biophysics and biochemistry of smooth muscle contraction.

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Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.


In this review the biophysics and biochemistry of smooth muscle contraction are dealt with. We describe a new model for the study of bronchial smooth muscle, which facilitates study of cellular contractile mechanisms. A new concept emerging is that study of steady-state mechanical parameters such as maximal isometric force (Po) velocity is inadequate because two types of crossbridges (normally cycling (NBR) and latch) seem to be sequentially active during smooth muscle contraction. Thus quick-release techniques are required to characterize the force-velocity properties of the two types of bridges. Pathophysiological processes that affect the muscle's shortening ability seem to affect the early NBRs only. With respect to maximal shortening capacity of the smooth muscle, the role of loading is very important. The differences between isotonic, elastic, and viscous loading are considerable. Ultimately, the time course and magnitude of loading should exactly resemble that operative in vivo. Once again, it is the characteristic of loading in the early phase of contraction that is crucial, as most of the shortening in smooth muscle occurs early in the contraction. While the maximum force developed by smooth muscle per unit cross-sectional area is the same as for striated muscle, the velocity is 50 times less. The properties of the series and parallel elastic elements of smooth muscle are described. The latter, when in compression mode, acts as an internal resistance to shortening and probably limits it. Isotonic relaxation has therefore not been studied in smooth muscle. We have developed a shortening parameter that is independent of the load on the muscle and of the initial length of the muscle's contractile element. We report the novel observation that isotonically relaxing smooth muscle reactivates itself, resulting in terminal slowing of the relaxation process. With respect to the biochemistry of smooth muscle contraction, contractile (actin isoforms, myosin heavy and light chains and their isoforms), regulatory (calmodulin-4 Ca2+, myosin light chain kinase, myosin light chain and its phosphorylation, tropomyosin, caldesmon, and calponin), and cytoskeletal (chiefly desmin and vimentin) proteins are discussed. While the kinase activates the contractile system, caldesmon and calponin modulate the activity downward. The cytoskeletal proteins desmin, vimentin, and alpha-actinin could constitute the muscle cell's internal resistor.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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