Most reductionist theories of muscle attribute a fiber's mechanical properties to the scaled behavior of a single half-sarcomere. Mathematical models of this type can explain many of the known mechanical properties of muscle but have to incorporate a passive mechanical component that becomes approximately 300% stiffer in activating conditions to reproduce the force response elicited by stretching a fast mammalian muscle fiber. The available experimental data suggests that titin filaments, which are the mostly likely source of the passive component, become at most approximately 30% stiffer in saturating Ca2+ solutions. The work described in this manuscript used computer modeling to test an alternative systems theory that attributes the stretch response of a mammalian fiber to the composite behavior of a collection of half-sarcomeres. The principal finding was that the stretch response of a chemically permeabilized rabbit psoas fiber could be reproduced with a framework consisting of 300 half-sarcomeres arranged in 6 parallel myofibrils without requiring titin filaments to stiffen in activating solutions. Ablation of inter-myofibrillar links in the computer simulations lowered isometric force values and lowered energy absorption during a stretch. This computed behavior mimics effects previously observed in experiments using muscles from desmin-deficient mice in which the connections between Z-disks in adjacent myofibrils are presumably compromised. The current simulations suggest that muscle fibers exhibit emergent properties that reflect interactions between half-sarcomeres and are not properties of a single half-sarcomere in isolation. It is therefore likely that full quantitative understanding of a fiber's mechanical properties requires detailed analysis of a complete fiber system and cannot be achieved by focusing solely on the properties of a single half-sarcomere.

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Published in PLoS Computational Biology, v. 5, no. 11, e1000560.

© 2009 Kenneth S. Campbell. 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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