Journal of Applied Physiology

Passive stretch inhibits central corelike lesion formation in the soleus muscles of hindlimb-suspended unloaded rats

D. V. Baewer, M. Hoffman, J. G. Romatowski, J. L. W. Bain, R. H. Fitts, D. A. Riley


Hindlimb suspension unloading (HSU) is a ground-based model simulating the effects of microgravity unloading on the musculoskeletal system. In this model, gravity causes the hind foot of the rat to drop, opening the front of the ankle to 90–105° plantar flexion at rest. As HSU proceeds, the normal weight-bearing angle of 30° dorsiflexion is achieved progressively less, and the contraction range of soleus is abbreviated. Our laboratory reported that 12 days of HSU caused central corelike lesions (CCLs) of myofibril breakdown (Riley DA, Slocum GR, Bain JL, Sedlak FR, Sowa TE, and Mellender JW. J Appl Physiol. 69: 58–66, 1990). The present study investigated whether daily stretch of the calf muscles prevents CCL formation. The soleus muscles of HSU Sprague-Dawley male rats (∼287 g) were lengthened by unilateral ankle splinting at 30°. Compared with the nonsplinted side, splinting for 10 or 20 min per day in awake rats significantly decreased CCLs in soleus by 88 and 91%, respectively (P < 0.01). Compared with control muscle wet weight, 20-min splinting reduced atrophy by 33%, whereas 10-min splinting ameliorated atrophy by 17% (P < 0.01). Bilateral soleus electromyograph recording revealed higher levels of contractile activity on the splinted side during splinting. To isolate the effects of stretch from isometric contractile activity, contractions were eliminated by whole animal anesthesia with isoflurane during 10-min daily splinting. The percentage of fibers with CCLs was reduced by 57%, and the average lesion size was 29% smaller in the stretched muscle (P < 0.05). Soleus muscle wet weight and fiber area were unaltered by stretch alone. Loaded contractions during splinting are necessary to prevent muscle fiber atrophy. Passive muscle stretch acts to maintain myofibril structural integrity.

  • length
  • countermeasure
  • splint
  • atrophy
  • calcium
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