There are few comprehensive investigations of the changes in muscle architecture that accompany muscle contraction or change in muscle length in vivo. For this study, we measured changes in the three-dimensional architecture of the human medial gastrocnemius at the whole muscle level, the fascicle level and the fiber level using anatomical MRI and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Data were obtained from eight subjects under relaxed conditions at three muscle lengths. At the whole muscle level, a 5.1% increase in muscle belly length resulted in a reduction in both muscle width (mean change −2.5%) and depth (−4.8%). At the fascicle level, muscle architecture measurements obtained at 3,000 locations per muscle showed that for every millimeter increase in muscle-tendon length above the slack length, average fascicle length increased by 0.46 mm, pennation angle decreased by 0.27° (0.17° in the superficial part and 0.37° in the deep part), and fascicle curvature decreased by 0.18 m−1. There was no evidence of systematic variation in architecture along the muscle’s long axis at any muscle length. At the fiber level, analysis of the diffusion signal showed that passive lengthening of the muscle increased diffusion along fibers and decreased diffusion across fibers. Using these measurements across scales, we show that the complex shape changes that muscle fibers, whole muscles, and aponeuroses of the medial gastrocnemius undergo in vivo cannot be captured by simple geometrical models. This justifies the need for more complex models that link microstructural changes in muscle fibers to macroscopic changes in architecture.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY Novel MRI and DTI techniques revealed changes in three-dimensional architecture of the human medial gastrocnemius during passive lengthening. Whole muscle belly width and depth decreased when the muscle lengthened. Fascicle length, pennation, and curvature changed uniformly or near uniformly along the muscle during passive lengthening. Diffusion of water molecules in muscle changes in the same direction as fascicle strains.
- diffusion tensor imaging
- muscle architecture
- passive muscle properties
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