In vitro studies of the diaphragm from emphysematous animals have, in some instances, shown an alteration in its sarcomere length-tension relationship and a decreased maximal specific tension. To our knowledge, it has never been determined whether such functional changes may be indicative of ultrastructural adaptations, e.g., changes in filament lengths and thus cross-bridge number. To address this, we compared filament lengths in diaphragms from hamsters in which emphysema was induced by endotracheal instillation of elastase (E) 5 mo before the hamsters were killed with those from control hamsters (C; saline instillation). Diaphragms were then fixed by vascular perfusion with buffered glutaraldehyde in situ at airway pressures set to approximate the physiological range of lung volumes from residual volume (RV) to total lung capacity (TLC). Ultrathin sections (50–70 nm) were taken parallel to the muscle fiber axis and examined by electron microscopy (x33,000). Sarcomere and filament length measurements were calibrated using an actin periodicity of 39 nm and an M-band width of 86 nm to correct for dimensional changes during preparation. Emphysema increased the change in lung volume from -20 to +25 cmH2O airway pressure (from RV to TLC) by approximately 88%, and the displacement volume of excised lung at 0 cmH2O airway pressure was increased by approximately 138% on average. Neither myosin (C = 1.592 +/- 0.027; E = 1.572 +/- 0.035 micron; P = 0.72) nor actin (C = 1.210 +/- 0.035; E = 1.221 +/- 0.014 micron; P = 0.76) filament lengths were affected by emphysema. Thus, filament length changes do not underlie the diaphragm functional adaptations observed previously in emphysema.
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