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J Neurosci. 2004 Mar 31;24(13):3386-93.

Fiber types of the intrinsic whisker muscle and whisking behavior.

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Department of Cell Physiology, Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany.


Some rodent species show rhythmic bouts of vibrissal protractions and retractions, referred to as whisking, that are among the fastest movements performed by mammals. To better understand the muscular basis of whisking, we compared (1) whisker movements of two whisking species (mouse, rat) and a non-whisking species (guinea pig), (2) the muscle fiber composition of intrinsic whisker muscles of whisking and a non-whisking species, and (3) the muscle fiber composition of intrinsic whisker muscles and of selected skeletal muscles. Using high-speed videography, we found that mice, rats, and guinea pigs can generate fast and large-amplitude whisker movements. Guinea pigs do not show bouts of fast, strictly rhythmic whisker movements, and the average speed of their whisker movements is much lower than in mice and rats. Analysis of mRNA expression of myosin heavy chain isoforms, myofibrillar ATPase staining, and antibody labeling indicate that in all three species intrinsic whisker muscles are composed predominantly of type 2B muscle fibers. Intrinsic whisker muscles of mice consisted of type 2B (> or =90%) and type 2D fibers. In rats we observed, in addition to type 2B/2D fibers, approximately 10% of slow type 1 fibers, and in guinea pigs we observed approximately 3% of slow type 1 fibers and 20% of type 2A fibers. Type 2B fibers have high levels of anaerobic glycolytic enzymes providing a rapid source of ATP and high maximum velocity of contraction but are less fatigue resistant than other muscle fiber types. The high percentage of type 2B fibers distinguishes the intrinsic whisker musculature from skeletal muscles and may have evolved for fast scanning of the sensory environment.

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