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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(5):e1002506. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002506. Epub 2012 May 10.

Filament compliance influences cooperative activation of thin filaments and the dynamics of force production in skeletal muscle.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, United States of America.


Striated muscle contraction is a highly cooperative process initiated by Ca²⁺ binding to the troponin complex, which leads to tropomyosin movement and myosin cross-bridge (XB) formation along thin filaments. Experimental and computational studies suggest skeletal muscle fiber activation is greatly augmented by cooperative interactions between neighboring thin filament regulatory units (RU-RU cooperativity; 1 RU = 7 actin monomers+1 troponin complex+1 tropomyosin molecule). XB binding can also amplify thin filament activation through interactions with RUs (XB-RU cooperativity). Because these interactions occur with a temporal order, they can be considered kinetic forms of cooperativity. Our previous spatially-explicit models illustrated that mechanical forms of cooperativity also exist, arising from XB-induced XB binding (XB-XB cooperativity). These mechanical and kinetic forms of cooperativity are likely coordinated during muscle contraction, but the relative contribution from each of these mechanisms is difficult to separate experimentally. To investigate these contributions we built a multi-filament model of the half sarcomere, allowing RU activation kinetics to vary with the state of neighboring RUs or XBs. Simulations suggest Ca²⁺ binding to troponin activates a thin filament distance spanning 9 to 11 actins and coupled RU-RU interactions dominate the cooperative force response in skeletal muscle, consistent with measurements from rabbit psoas fibers. XB binding was critical for stabilizing thin filament activation, particularly at submaximal Ca²⁺ levels, even though XB-RU cooperativity amplified force less than RU-RU cooperativity. Similar to previous studies, XB-XB cooperativity scaled inversely with lattice stiffness, leading to slower rates of force development as stiffness decreased. Including RU-RU and XB-RU cooperativity in this model resulted in the novel prediction that the force-[Ca²⁺] relationship can vary due to filament and XB compliance. Simulations also suggest kinetic forms of cooperativity occur rapidly and dominate early to get activation, while mechanical forms of cooperativity act more slowly, augmenting XB binding as force continues to develop.

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