In smooth muscle, a cross-bridge mechanism is believed to be responsible for active force generation and fiber shortening. In the present studies, the viscoelastic and kinetic properties of the cross-bridge were probed by eliciting tension transients in response to small, rapid, step length changes (delta L = 0.3-1.0% Lcell in 2 ms). Tension transients were obtained in a single smooth muscle cell isolated from the toad (Bufo marinus) stomach muscularis, which was tied between a force transducer and a displacement device. To record the transients, which were of extremely small magnitude (0.1 microN), a high-frequency (400 Hz), ultrasensitive force transducer (18 mV/microN) was designed and built. The transients obtained during maximal force generation (Fmax = 2.26 microN) were characterized by a linear elastic response (Emax = 1.26 X 10(4) mN/mm2) coincident with the length step, which was followed by a biphasic tension recovery made up of two exponentials (tau fast = 5-20 ms, tau slow = 50-300 ms). During the development of force upon activation, transients were elicited. The relationship between stiffness and force was linear, which suggests that the transients originate within the cross-bridge and reflect the cross-bridge's viscoelastic and kinetic properties. The observed fiber elasticity suggests that the smooth muscle cross-bridge is considerably more compliant than in fast striated muscle. A thermodynamic model is presented that allows for an analysis of the factors contributing to the increased compliance of the smooth muscle cross-bridge.

This content is only available as a PDF.