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PLoS One. 2014 Jan 23;9(1):e85739. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085739. eCollection 2014.

Why muscle is an efficient shock absorber.

Author information

National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, London, UK and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore.
Institute of Immunology and Physiology, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Institute of Mechanics, Lomonosov Moscow University, Moscow, Russia.
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, Grenoble, France.


Skeletal muscles power body movement by converting free energy of ATP hydrolysis into mechanical work. During the landing phase of running or jumping some activated skeletal muscles are subjected to stretch. Upon stretch they absorb body energy quickly and effectively thus protecting joints and bones from impact damage. This is achieved because during lengthening, skeletal muscle bears higher force and has higher instantaneous stiffness than during isometric contraction, and yet consumes very little ATP. We wish to understand how the actomyosin molecules change their structure and interaction to implement these physiologically useful mechanical and thermodynamical properties. We monitored changes in the low angle x-ray diffraction pattern of rabbit skeletal muscle fibers during ramp stretch compared to those during isometric contraction at physiological temperature using synchrotron radiation. The intensities of the off-meridional layer lines and fine interference structure of the meridional M3 myosin x-ray reflection were resolved. Mechanical and structural data show that upon stretch the fraction of actin-bound myosin heads is higher than during isometric contraction. On the other hand, the intensities of the actin layer lines are lower than during isometric contraction. Taken together, these results suggest that during stretch, a significant fraction of actin-bound heads is bound non-stereo-specifically, i.e. they are disordered azimuthally although stiff axially. As the strong or stereo-specific myosin binding to actin is necessary for actin activation of the myosin ATPase, this finding explains the low metabolic cost of energy absorption by muscle during the landing phase of locomotion.

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