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J Exp Biol. 2011 Aug 15;214(Pt 16):2649-53. doi: 10.1242/jeb.052985.

High efficiency in human muscle: an anomaly and an opportunity?

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  • 1University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7115, USA.


Can human muscle be highly efficient in vivo? Animal muscles typically show contraction-coupling efficiencies <50% in vitro but a recent study reports that the human first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle of the hand has an efficiency value in vivo of 68%. We examine two key factors that could account for this apparently high efficiency value: (1) transfer of cross-bridge work into mechanical work and (2) the use of elastic energy to do external work. Our analysis supports a high contractile efficiency reflective of nearly complete transfer of muscular to mechanical work with no contribution by recycling of elastic energy to mechanical work. Our survey of reported contraction-coupling efficiency values puts the FDI value higher than typical values found in small animals in vitro but within the range of values for human muscle in vivo. These high efficiency values support recent studies that suggest lower Ca(2+) cycling costs in working contractions and a decline in cost during repeated contractions. In the end, our analysis indicates that the FDI muscle may be exceptional in having an efficiency value on the higher end of that reported for human muscle. Thus, the FDI muscle may be an exception both in contraction-coupling efficiency and in Ca(2+) cycling costs, which makes it an ideal muscle model system offering prime conditions for studying the energetics of muscle contraction in vivo.

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