Growth and immobilization effects on sarcomeres: a comparison between gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the adult rat

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The effects of growth and limb immobilization on muscle mass, total physiological cross-section (PC), the number of sarcomeres in series and the length of sarcomere components were investigated in the soleus muscle (SOL) and compared to previously obtained data on gastrocnemius (GM) muscles of rats between age 10 and 16 weeks. For SOL this period of growth was reflected in an increased muscle mass and PC. No such increases were found for GM. In contrast, immobilization caused severe atrophy of fibres of both muscles. Compared to the value at the start of the immobilization, it was found that the fast twitch muscle (GM) atrophied more than the typically slow twitch one (SOL). The number of sarcomeres in series within fibres increased after growth and decreased after immobilization of SOL. For fibres of GM no such changes were observed. Muscle architecture is proposed as an important factor for the explanation of the results concerning the number of sarcomeres in series and those arranged in parallel. Due to the difference in muscle architecture, GM being more pennate than SOL, during growth, it is thought that increases in bone length affect the length of fibres of SOL more than those of GM. During immobilization, atrophy of fibres of GM was sufficient for the muscle length adaptation to meet the muscle length change induced by immobilization but in SOL, atrophy had to be accompanied by decreases in the number of sarcomeres in series to achieve adequate muscle length adaptation.