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A Commentary On Muscle Unit Properties In Cat Hindlimb Muscles

J. McDonagh, M. Binder, R. Reinking, D. Stuart
Published 1980 · Biology, Medicine

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A broad survey of muscle unit properties in 14 muscles of the cat hind limb is presented which emphasizes some general features of unit properties in mammalian muscles. A more detailed analysis of muscle unit properties in three muscles of the posterior compartment of the lower leg is then presented using Burke's tetrapartite (FF, FI or F (Int.), FR, and S) unit classification scheme. Our data on the properties of motor units in cat tibialis posterior (TP) have been compared to those generated by Burke and colleagues on units in flexor digitorum longus (FDL) and medial gastrocnemius (MG). In all three muscles, twitch contraction time was distinctly slower for type S units and specific tension outputs were substantially greater for type FF units than for type S units. The innervation ratios of type FR units were slightly lower than for type S units but the specific tension of the FR units was closer to FF units than to type S units. The FF units controlled 70–74% of the cumulative force output of each muscles, indicating a substantial capacity for powerful rapid contractions of all three of these muscles despite their differences in “size,” action, and force generation. Distinctive features of the three muscles included differences in the unit types' force producing capabilities and in the relative representation of “nonfatigable” type FR and S units in each muscle. In particular, TP is endowed with some unusually powerful type FF units and a high percentage (42%) of type S units. In contrast, FDL has units that develop relatively little force and an unusually high representation (56%) of type FR units. The possible relationships between these muscle features and their presumed role in posture and locomotion is discussed.
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