Isolated smooth muscle cells and cell fragments prepared by glycerination and subsequent homogenization will contract to one-third their normal length, provided Ca++ and ATP are present. Ca++-independent contraction was obtained by preincubation in Ca++ and ATP gamma S, or by addition of trypsin-treated myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) that no longer requires Ca++ for activation. In the absence of Ca++, myosin was rapidly lost from the cells upon addition of ATP. Glycerol-urea-PAGE gels showed that none of this myosin is phosphorylated. The extent of myosin loss was ATP- and pH-dependent and occurred under conditions similar to those previously reported for the in vitro disassembly of gizzard myosin filaments. Ca++-dependent contraction was restored to extracted cells by addition of gizzard myosin under rigor conditions (i.e., no ATP), followed by addition of MLCK, calmodulin, Ca++, and ATP. Function could also be restored by adding all these proteins in relaxing conditions (i.e., in EGTA and ATP) and then initiating contraction by Ca++ addition. Incubation with skeletal myosin will restore contraction, but this was not Ca++-dependent unless the cells were first incubated in troponin and tropomyosin. These results strengthen the idea that contraction in glycerinated cells and presumably also in intact cells is primarily thick filament regulated via MLCK, that the myosin filaments are unstable in relaxing conditions, and that the spatial information required for cell length change is present in the thin filament-intermediate filament organization.

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