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The influence of strain and activation on the locomotor function of rat ankle extensor muscles

Hodson-Tole, Emma F. and Wakeling, J. M. (2010) The influence of strain and activation on the locomotor function of rat ankle extensor muscles. Journal of experimental biology, 213 (2). pp. 318-330. ISSN 1477-9145

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Abstract

The ankle extensor muscles of the rat have different mechanical and physiological properties, providing a means of studying how changes in locomotor demands influence muscle fascicle behaviour, force and mechanical power output in different populations of muscle fibre types. Muscle fascicle strain, strain rate and activation patterns in the soleus, plantaris and medial gastrocnemius muscles of the rat were quantified from sonomicrometric and myoelectric data, collected during treadmill locomotion under nine velocity/incline conditions. Significant differences in peak-to-peak muscle fascicle strains and strain rates were identified between the three muscles (P<0.001, all cases), with much smaller strains (<0.1) and strain rates (<0.5 s–1) occurring in soleus and plantaris compared with medial gastrocnemius (>0.2 and >1.0 s–1, respectively). The proportion of stride duration that each muscle was active (duty cycle) differed between locomotor conditions as did the timing of the activation and deactivation phases. A simple Hill-based muscle model was used to determine the influence of muscle activation relative to maximum fascicle strain and duty cycle on total force production and mechanical power output, from a slow and a fast muscle fibre, simulated through two peak-to-peak strain cycles (0.1 and 0.3). The predictions of the model did not complement conclusions that may be drawn from the observation of myoelectric timing and fascicle strain trajectories in each of the muscles. The model predicted that changes in mechanical power output were more sensitive to changes in activation parameters than to changes in strain trajectories, with subtle changes in activation phase and duty cycle significantly affecting predicted mechanical power output.

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