We have investigated the structure of the crossbridges in muscles rapidly frozen while relaxed, in rigor, and at various times after activation from rigor by flash photolysis of caged ATP. We used Fourier analysis of images of cross sections to obtain an average view of the muscle structure, and correspondence analysis to extract information about individual crossbridge shapes. The crossbridge structure changes dramatically between relaxed, rigor, and with time after ATP release. In relaxed muscle, most crossbridges are detached. In rigor, all are attached and have a characteristic asymmetric shape that shows strong left-handed curvature when viewed from the M-line towards the Z-line. Immediately after ATP release, before significant force has developed (20 ms) the homogeneous rigor population is replaced by a much more diverse collection of crossbridge shapes. Over the next few hundred milliseconds, the proportion of attached crossbridges changes little, but the distribution of the crossbridges among different structural classes continues to evolve. Some forms of attached crossbridge (presumably weakly attached) increase at early times when tension is low. The proportion of several other attached non-rigor crossbridge shapes increases in parallel with the development of active tension. The results lend strong support to models of muscle contraction that have attributed force generation to structural changes in attached crossbridges.

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