This study was undertaken to determine whether glycerol-extracted rabbit psoas muscle fibers can develop tension and shorten after being stretched to such a length that the primary and secondary filaments no longer overlap. A method was devised to measure the initial sarcomere length and the ATP-induced isotonic shortening in prestretched isolated fibers subjected to a small preload (0.02 to 0.15 P0). At all degrees of stretch, the fiber was able to shorten (60 to 75 per cent): to a sarcomere length of 0.7 µ when the initial length was 3.7 µ or less, and to an increasing length of 0.9 to 1.8 µ with increasing initial sarcomere length (3.8 to 4.4 µ). At sarcomere lengths of 3.8 to 4.5 µ, overlap of filaments was lost, as verified by electron microscopy. The variation in sarcomere length within individual fibers has been assessed by both light and electron microscopic measurements. In fibers up to 10 mm in length the stretch was evenly distributed along the fiber, and with sarcomere spacings greater than 4 µ there was only a slight chance of finding sarcomeres with filament overlap. These observations are in apparent contradiction to the assumption that an overlap of A and I filaments is necessary for tension generation and shortening.

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