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Muscle length-force characteristics in relation to muscle architecture: a bilateral study of gastrocnemius medialis muscles of unilaterally immobilized rats


The geometry of rat gastrocnemius medialis muscle (GM) was studied at different muscle lengths. In addition, the number of sarcomeres in series within fibres was estimated. For muscles of immobilized legs (i.e. GM was held at in vivo smallest length) as well as those of the contralateral legs, comparison was made with controls of similar age. Immobilization periods of 4 and 6 weeks were used. For immobilized GM muscles, the number of sarcomeres in series was lower only within distal fibres after 4 weeks of immobilization. Aponeuroses were 25076 shorter after both immobilization periods and no differences were found for fibre and aponeurosis angle. For GM of contralateral legs no difference with respect to controls was found regarding the number of sarcomeres in series. Aponeuroses were approximately 15% shorter and the fibre and the aponeurosis angle were also smaller. Based on these geometrical differences, it was expected that both experimental muscles should exert force over a smaller range of muscle length than controls. However, for immobilized muscles a similar range of length was found for which a possible explanation could be the more compliant aponeurosis. For contralateral muscle a 2-mm larger length range as well as a change of distribution of optimal fibre length with respect to optimal muscle length was found. For immobilized muscles indications of a distribution of optimal fibre lengths were also found but these did not differ from those of the controls. The results for contralateral muscles would indicate that the distribution may be changed under the influence of an altered use of the limb and that this may be an important factor determining the length range of active force generation.

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Correspondence to P. A. Huijing.

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Heslinga, J.W., Huijing, P.A. Muscle length-force characteristics in relation to muscle architecture: a bilateral study of gastrocnemius medialis muscles of unilaterally immobilized rats. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 66, 289–298 (1993).

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Key words

  • Rat muscle
  • Plaster cast
  • Length-force characteristics
  • Atrophy
  • Immobilization