Considering the widely accepted cross-bridge model of muscle contraction (Huxley. 1969. Science [Wash. D. C.]. 164:1356-1366), one would expect that attachment of angled cross-bridges would give rise to radial as well as longitudinal forces in the muscle fiber. These forces would tend, in most instances, to draw the myofilaments together and to cause the fiber to decrease in width. Using optical techniques, we have observed significant changes in the width of mechanically skinned frog muscle fibers when the fibers are put into rigor by deleting ATP from the bathing medium. Using a high molecular weight polymer polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP-40; number average mol. wt. (Mn) = 40,000) in the bathing solution, we were able to estimate the magnitude of the radial forces by shrinking the relaxed fiber to the width observed with rigor induction. With rigor, fiber widths decreased up to approximately 10%, with shrinking being greater at shorter sarcomere spacing and at lower PVP concentrations. At higher PVP concentrations, some fibers actually swelled slightly. Radial pressures seen with rigor in 2 and 4% PVP ranged up to 8.9 x 10(3) N/m2. Upon rigor induction, fibers exerted a longitudinal force of approximately 1 x 10(5) N/m2 that was inhibited by high PVP concentrations (greater than or equal to 13%). In very high PVP concentrations (greater than or equal to 20%), fibers exerted an anomalous force, independent of ATP, which ranged up to 6 x 10(4) N/m2 at 60% PVP. Assuming that all the radial force is the result of cross-bridge attachment, we calculated that rigor cross-bridges exert a radial force of 0.2 x 1.2 x 10(-9) N per thick filament in sarcomeres near rest length. This force is of roughly the same order of magnitude as the longitudinal force per thick filament in rigor contraction or in maximal (calcium-activated) contraction of skinned fibers in ATP-containing solutions. Inasmuch as widths of fibers stretched well beyond overlap of thick and thin filaments decreased with rigor, other radially directed forces may be operating in parallel with cross-bridge forces.

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