A skeletal muscle fiber that is stimulated to contract and then stretched from L₁ to L₂ produces more force after the initial transient decays than if it is stimulated at L₂. This behavior has been well studied experimentally, and is known as residual force enhancement. The underlying mechanism remains controversial. We hypothesized that residual force enhancement could reflect mechanical interactions between heterogeneous half-sarcomeres. To test this hypothesis, we subjected a computational model of interacting heterogeneous half-sarcomeres to the same activation and stretch protocols that produce residual force enhancement in real preparations. Following a transient period of elevated force associated with active stretching, the model predicted a slowly decaying force enhancement lasting >30 seconds after stretch. Enhancement was on the order of 13% above isometric tension at the post-stretch muscle length, which agrees well with experimental measurements. Force enhancement in the model was proportional to stretch magnitude but did not depend strongly on the velocity of stretch, also in agreement with experiments. Even small variability in the strength of half-sarcomeres (2.1% standard deviation, normally distributed) was sufficient to produce a 5% force enhancement over isometric tension. Analysis of the model suggests that heterogeneity in half-sarcomeres leads to residual force enhancement by storing strain energy introduced during active stretch in distributions of bound cross-bridges. Complex interactions between the heterogeneous half-sarcomeres then dissipate this stored energy at a rate much slower than isolated cross-bridges would cycle. Given the variations in half-sarcomere length that have been observed in real muscle preparations and the stochastic variability inherent in all biological systems, half-sarcomere heterogeneity cannot be excluded as a contributing source of residual force enhancement.

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Published in PLOS Computational Biology, v. 7, no. 9, e1002156.

© 2011 Campbell et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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