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After studying this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Differentiate the major classes of muscle in the body.

  • Describe the molecular and electrical makeup of muscle cell excitation–contraction coupling.

  • Define elements of the sarcomere that underlie striated muscle contraction.

  • Differentiate the role(s) for Ca2+ in skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle contraction.

  • Appreciate muscle cell diversity and function.


Muscle cells, like neurons, can be excited chemically, electrically, and mechanically to produce an action potential that is transmitted along their cell membranes. Unlike neurons, they respond to stimuli by activating a contractile mechanism. The contractile protein myosin and the cytoskeletal protein actin are abundant in muscle, where they are the primary structural components that bring about contraction.

Muscle is generally divided into three types: skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, and smooth muscle, although smooth muscle is not a homogeneous single category. Skeletal muscle makes up the great mass of the somatic musculature. It has well-developed cross-striations, does not normally contract in the absence of nervous stimulation, lacks anatomic and functional connections between individual muscle fibers, and is generally under voluntary control. Cardiac muscle also has cross-striations, but it is functionally syncytial and, although it can be modulated via the autonomic nervous system, it can contract rhythmically in the absence of external innervation owing to the presence in the myocardium of pacemaker cells that discharge spontaneously (see Chapter 29). Smooth muscle lacks cross-striations and can be further subdivided into two broad types: unitary (or visceral) smooth muscle and multiunit smooth muscle. The type found in most hollow viscera is functionally syncytial and contains pacemakers that discharge irregularly. The multiunit type found in the eye and in some other locations is not spontaneously active and resembles skeletal muscle in graded contractile ability. Smooth muscle is also classified on the basis of its function or activity pattern to rhythmic/phasic smooth muscle and continuous/tonic smooth muscle.



Skeletal muscle is made up of individual muscle fibers that are the “building blocks” of the muscular system in the same sense that the neurons are the building blocks of the nervous system. Most skeletal muscles begin and end in tendons, and the muscle fibers are arranged in parallel between the tendinous ends, so that the force of contraction of the units is additive. Each muscle fiber is a single cell that is multinucleated, long, cylindrical, and surrounded by a cell membrane, the sarcolemma (Figure 5–1). There are no syncytial bridges between cells. The muscle fibers are made up of myofibrils, which are divisible into individual filaments. These myofilaments contain several proteins that together make up the contractile machinery of the skeletal muscle.


Mammalian skeletal muscle. A) A single muscle fiber surrounded by its sarcolemma has been cut away to show individual myofibrils. ...

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