This study addresses a long-standing controversy on the effects of the degree of activation on cross-bridge kinetics in vivo, by utilizing isolated intact and skinned fiber preparations. Steady force levels ranging from 0.1 to 0.76 P0 were achieved at 0 degrees C with temperature-step stimulation of intact fibers by varying the amount of caffeine in the bathing medium. The speed of unloaded shortening (by slack test) was found to be practically constant, which suggests that intracellular Ca2+ in the intact preparation has relatively little effect on isotonic shortening. Along with the results on tetanically stimulated fibers (force, P0), we observed a minor but significant trend for the speed to decline with lowered force levels. This trend is explained by the presence of a constant internal load equaling approximately 1% P0. The effect of Ca2+ on the shortening behavior of skinned fibers was examined at 0 and 10 degrees C. At 0 degrees C, there was practically no effect of Ca2+ on the shortening response in slack tests. At 10 degrees C, there was also no Ca2+ effect during the first activation cycle, but in subsequent cycles the speed of shortening was reduced during partial activation, which indicates that there were permanent changes in the fiber properties under these experimental conditions. The latter result could be explained if the internal load had increased to approximately 5% P0 in the modified skinned fiber (compared with 1% P0 in intact fiber). These findings show that isotonic contraction of frog fibers is intrinsically unaffected by the variations in intracellular Ca2+ that modulated the force over a nearly complete range. The results provide support for the idea that Ca2+ influences the force development in vivo by on-off switching mechanisms.

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