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The Parts of Muscle Contraction

Kathryn Barton
Those that would view this document would be students
pursuing a degree under the categories of science, biology or
kinesiology. This document could be used as a study guide,
lesson notes or material used instead of a textbook.

Muscle Contraction
Muscle contraction is a body process that allows movement
by contracting fibers. Muscles are used constantly for
movement, mobility and regulating homeostasis. Important
traits of muscles that allow for the general roles stated above
are excitability, contractility, extensibility, elasticity, and the
sliding filament theory.

Parts of the Muscle

Connective tissue covers filaments of the muscle and is
organized into subdivisions. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of
an individual muscle. At the level of the individual muscle fiber
the endomysium surrounds each muscle fiber. The perimysium
bundles muscle fibers already surrounded by the endomysium
into fasciles as shown in
figure 1. Finally the
epimysium encloses the
entire muscle.
Membranes play an
important role in the
muscle fiber. The
sarcolemma is the
membrane of a muscle
fiber and the sarcoplasm is
the cytoplasm of the fiber.
Sarcoplasmic reticulum is
a modified endoplasmic
reticulum that covers the Source: Saladin, 2007

myofibril which release Figure 1 Represents the structure of a muscle

calcium ions upon
activation. Terminal
cisternae which are enlarged regions at the end of
sarcoplasmic reticulum sections concentrate and sequester
calcium ions. T-tubules infiltrate the interior of the cell that aid
in action potential movement. A triad consists of one terminal
cistern, one T-tubule, followed by another terminal cistern.
Myofibril is within a muscle fiber and is a bundle of
contractile and elastic proteins. The myofibril contains
striations which are sarcomere repetitions containing five units
when looked upon under a microscope create dark and light
bands as shown in Figure 2.
• A-band has an anisotropic property, which creates the
darkness due to the scattering of light unevenly. It is
located throughout the entire length of thick filaments
like myosin which will be discussed later. There is a
point in the A-band where thin filaments surround the
thick filaments.
• I-band
consists of
only thin
Light bands
are isotropic
labeled I-
band. The I-
band is
bisected in Source: Silverthorn, 2010
the middle by a
Figure 2 Shows an individual sarcomere with
Z disc. components 1

• Z disc is
comprised of proteins lined up in a zigzag formation.
The Z disc is an attachment site for thin filaments.
• M-line is the analogous protein structure for thick
filaments as the Z disc is for thin filaments. M-line
divides the A-band in half.
• H-zone is the area of the A-band where there are no
thin filaments, only thick filaments and appears to be
lighter under a microscope.
Important Proteins
Three types of proteins allow for muscle contraction;
contractile proteins, regulatory proteins, and supporting
Contractile Proteins
• Myosin is a motor protein and multiple myosin
filaments make up a thick filament.
• Actin is made up of globular proteins and many actin
make up thin filament.
Together myosin and actin contract or shorten the muscle
fiber. There are two regulatory proteins; troponin and
Regulatory Proteins
• Troponin consists of three subunits; T-subunit links to
tropomyosin, the C-subunit has a calcium binding site,
and the I-subunit inhibits actin and myosin binding.
• Tropomyosin interferes with the binding site between
actin and myosin. Tropomyosin wraps around actin in
a resting state of a muscle, this is the “off” position not
allowing myosin to complete a power stroke. To put
tropomyosin into the “on” position, calcium binds to
troponin and together the complex pulls tropomyosin
off the actin myosin binding site allowing myosin to
complete a power stroke.
Supporting Proteins
• Titin is the largest known protein and due to elastic
properties stretches from one Z disc to following M
line. Titin stabilizes the position of myosin and actin
as well as enables the return of stretched muscles to
resting length.
• Nebulin is a large inelastic protein that assists titin.
Nebulin attaches to the Z disc and follows the thin
filaments where it helps the alignment of actin
filaments within the sarcomere.

Activation of a muscle first receives input from the thalamus
and cerebellum in the brain. A signal pathway follows from the
brain to the gray matter within the spinal cord. Following the
ventral motor root the signal then diverges to individual motor
units and innervates myofibrils.
Calcium signals initiate muscle contraction at a biochemical
level. Calcium levels first increase in the cytosol and begin to
bind with troponin. The troponin calcium complex releases
tropomyosin from the actin myosin binding site which allows
myosin to complete a power stroke.

Contraction is the formation of tension in a muscle.
Crossbridges form between the myosin heads and the actin
binding site. A low force crossbridge creates a relaxed muscle
whereas a high force crossbridge creates a contracted muscle.
Myosin heads are able to create a power stroke and “walk”
along the actin filament. Myosin heads bind, push and release
actin molecules which slides the filaments thus contracting the
muscle. The sliding filament theory states that the thick and
thin filaments do not shorten rather the thin filaments slide
over the thick filaments to pull the Z discs closer, shortening
the sarcomere as a whole. Actin filaments move toward the M
line sliding over the thick filaments. The I-band and H zone
almost disappear while the length of the A-band remains

Relaxation of the muscle after contraction starts with the
cease of the stimulation. The actin and myosin filaments then
slide back to the neutral state, lengthening the sarcomere.
When a muscle in the body relaxes the corresponding
antagonist muscle contracts because most muscles in the body
are grouped in pairs.
Adenosine triphosphate also known as ATP is the energy
used by the muscles to power the contraction. During
relaxation of the muscle ATP is replenished. Short intense
bursts of activity have an increased demand for ATP which
cannot be met by the cardiovascular or respiratory system.
Instead immediate energy is given by creating ADP by
borrowing phosphate groups from other molecules. Short term
energy is used in activities such as running around the bases in
baseball or playing basketball. Anaerobic glycolysis is quicker
but yields only two ATP per glucose but this allows for about
thirty to forty seconds of maximum activity. Marathon runners
rely on the long term energy produced by aerobic respiration.
Aerobic respiration produces more ATP than glycolysis and
allows for prolonged activity.

Muscle contraction is generated by an action potential which
then allows the muscle filaments to slide and shorten the whole
fiber. Shortening the fiber contracts the whole muscle as stated
by the sliding filament theory. Contraction of a muscle creates
a force to move or resist a load. Postural muscles, for example,
resist gravity to keep the body upright.
Works Cited

Saladin, Kenneth S. Anatomy and Physiology: the Unity of

Form and Function. 4th ed. NY: McGraw HIll, 2007. 408-10.
Silverthorn, Dee U. Human Physiology: An Integrated
Approach. 5th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin
Cummings, 2010. 407-22. Print.