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J Morphol. 2004 Nov;262(2):667-81.

Neuromuscular partitioning, architectural design, and myosin fiber types of the M. vastus lateralis of the llama (Lama glama).

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Department of Anatomy and Histology, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


The llama (Lama glama) is one of the few mammals of relatively large body size in which three fast myosin heavy chain isoforms (i.e., IIA, IIX, IIB) are extensively expressed in their locomotory muscles. This study was designed to gain insight into the morphological and functional organization of skeletal musculature in this peculiar animal model. The neuromuscular partitioning, architectural design, and myosin fiber types were systematically studied in the M. vastus lateralis of adult llamas (n = 15). Four nonoverlapping neuromuscular partitions or compartments were identified macroscopically (using a modified Sihler's technique for muscle depigmentation), although they did not conform strictly to the definitions of "neuromuscular compartments." Each neuromuscular partition was innervated by primary branches of the femoral nerve and was arranged within the muscle as paired partitions, two in parallel (deep-superficial compartmentalization) and the other two in-series (proximo-distal compartmentalization). These neuromuscular partitions of the muscle varied in their respective architectural designs (studied after partial digestion with diluted nitric acid) and myosin fiber type characteristics (identified immunohistochemically with specific anti-myosin monoclonal antibodies, then examined by quantitative histochemistry and image analysis). The deep partitions of the muscle had longer fibers, with lower angles of pinnation, and higher percentages of fast-glycolytic fibers than the superficial partitions of the muscle. These differences clearly suggest a division of labor in the whole M. vastus lateralis of llamas, with deep partitions exhibiting features well adapted for dynamic activities in the extension of stifle, whereas superficial portions seem to be related to the antigravitational role of the muscle in preserving the extension of the stifle during standing and stance phase of the stride. This peculiar structural and functional organization of the llama M. vastus lateralis does not confirm the generalized idea that deep muscles or the deepest portions within the same muscles somehow develop postural and/or low-intensity isometric functions. Rather, it suggests a primacy of architecture over intramuscular location in determining fiber type composition and hence division of labor within the muscle. A compartmentalization in the distribution of the three fast-subtype fibers (IIA, IIX, and IIB) also occurred, and this could also be relevant functionally, since these fiber types differed significantly in size (IIA < IIX < IIB), oxidative capacity (IIA > IIX > IIB), and capillarization (IIA = IIX > IIB). Furthermore, a typical spatial pattern in fiber type distribution was encountered in llama muscle (i.e., fiber types were consistently ranked in the order I --> IIA --> IIX --> IIB from the center to the periphery of fascicles), suggesting again peculiar and not well understood functional adaptations in these species.

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