Corkscrew-like shortening in single smooth muscle cells

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Science  12 Jun 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4807, pp. 1457-1459
DOI: 10.1126/science.3109034


The slower and more economical contraction of smooth muscle as compared to that of skeletal muscle may relate to the arrangement of its contractile apparatus. Because the arrangement of the contractile apparatus determines the manner in which a single smooth muscle cell shortens, shortening of a contracting cell was examined by tracking of marker bead movements on the cell surface by means of digital video microscopy. Smooth muscle cells were observed to freely shorten in a unique corkscrew-like fashion with a pitch of 1.4 cell lengths (that is, the length change required for one complete rotation of cell) at a rate of 27 degrees per second. Corkscrew-like shortening was interpreted in terms of a structural model in which the contractile apparatus or cytoskeleton (or both) are helically oriented within the cell. Such an arrangement of these cytoarchitectural elements may help to explain in part the contractile capabilities of smooth muscle.

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