The effects of changes in electrolyte concentration on muscles which had been preserved in 50 per cent glycerol or washed in water were studied. The psoas preparation of Szent-Györgyi was generally used, but smooth and cardiac muscle gave the same results.
If the preparations are immersed in 0.16 molar NaCl or KCl and if the electrolyte subsequently is washed out with distilled water, tension rises. This effect is not obtained if solutions of CaCl2 or MgCl2 are used, but it is restored by brief immersion in NaCl or KCl solutions. Changes in pH have no effect. It is concluded that divalent cations are bound more firmly than monovalent ions, but that divalent exchange with monovalent ions.
After the application of ATP washing out electrolytes produces a much larger and more rapid rise in tension. This effect persists after ATP has been washed out and seems to be due to the removal of a substance which diminishes the dissociation of bound cations.
Washing out electrolytes also causes a large increase in transparency and swelling. These effects are also enhanced by previous application of ATP and are abolished or diminished by divalent cations.
The rise in tension and the swelling are explained as the result of an increase in the charge of the polar groups of the proteins. Because this mechanism produces only a small degree of shortening, it does not explain normal contraction, but it may be a part of this process. The significance of the phenomena described in relation to recent theories of the mechanism of muscular contraction is discussed. The observations show that increase in the charge of the contractile proteins causes contraction, not relaxation, as has been commonly assumed.