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J Biomech. 2006;39(3):568-78.

Macroscopic-microscopic characterization of the passive mechanical properties in rat soleus muscle.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biomécanique et Génie Biomédical, CNRS-UMR 6600, Université de Technologie de Compiègne, BP 20529, F-60205 Compiègne cedex, France.


The purpose of the study was to investigate changes in passive mechanical properties of the soleus muscle of the rat during the first year of life. These mechanical changes were quantified at a macroscopic (whole muscle) and a microscopic level (fiber) and were correlated with biochemical and morphological properties. Three passive mechanical tests (a relaxation test, a ramp stretch test and a stretch release cycle test) with different amplitudes and velocities were performed on isolated soleus muscles and fibers in rats at ages 1 (R1), 4 (R4) and 12 (R12) months. Mechanical parameters (dynamic and static forces, stresses and normalized stiffness) were recorded and measured. The morphological properties (size of fibers and muscles) for the three groups of rats were assessed by light microscopy which allowed us to observe the evolution of the fiber type (I, IIc and IIa) in the belly region and along the longitudinal axis of the muscle. In addition, biochemical analyses were performed at the level of the whole muscle in order to determine the collagen content. The results of the passive mechanical properties between the macroscopic (muscle) and microscopic (fiber) levels showed a similar evolution. Thus, an increase of the dynamic and static forces appeared between 1 and 4 months while a decrease of the passive tension occurred between 4 and 12 months. These mechanical changes were correlated to the morphological properties. In addition, the size of the three fibers type which grew with age could explain the increase of forces between 1 and 4 months. Furthermore, the biochemical analysis showed an increase of the collagen content during the same period which could also be associated with the increase of the passive forces. After 4 months, the passive tension decreased while the size of the fiber continued to increase. The biochemical analysis showed a decrease of the collagen content after 4 months, which could explain the loss of passive tension in the whole muscle. Concerning the similar loss at the fiber level, other assumptions are required such as a myofibril loss process and an increase of intermyofibrillar spaces. The originality of this present study was to compare the passive mechanical properties between two different levels of anatomical organization within the soleus muscle of the rat and to explain these mechanical changes in terms of biochemical and morphological properties.

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