Biophysical Reviews

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 133–160 | Cite as

The excitation–contraction coupling mechanism in skeletal muscle



First coined by Alexander Sandow in 1952, the term excitation–contraction coupling (ECC) describes the rapid communication between electrical events occurring in the plasma membrane of skeletal muscle fibres and Ca2+ release from the SR, which leads to contraction. The sequence of events in twitch skeletal muscle involves: (1) initiation and propagation of an action potential along the plasma membrane, (2) spread of the potential throughout the transverse tubule system (T-tubule system), (3) dihydropyridine receptors (DHPR)-mediated detection of changes in membrane potential, (4) allosteric interaction between DHPR and sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) ryanodine receptors (RyR), (5) release of Ca2+ from the SR and transient increase of Ca2+ concentration in the myoplasm, (6) activation of the myoplasmic Ca2+ buffering system and the contractile apparatus, followed by (7) Ca2+ disappearance from the myoplasm mediated mainly by its reuptake by the SR through the SR Ca2+ adenosine triphosphatase (SERCA), and under several conditions movement to the mitochondria and extrusion by the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCX). In this text, we review the basics of ECC in skeletal muscle and the techniques used to study it. Moreover, we highlight some recent advances and point out gaps in knowledge on particular issues related to ECC such as (1) DHPR-RyR molecular interaction, (2) differences regarding fibre types, (3) its alteration during muscle fatigue, (4) the role of mitochondria and store-operated Ca2+ entry in the general ECC sequence, (5) contractile potentiators, and (6) Ca2+ sparks.


Excitation–contraction coupling Ca2+ transients Skeletal muscle Fibre types Mitochondria 



The financial support comes from University of Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia (J.C.C.) and Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research, Venezuela (P.B. and C.C.). We want to acknowledge Alis Guillén for help in obtaining some experimental results presented in this review and Carolina Figueroa por sharing some information with us.

Conflict of interest

Juan C. Calderón, Pura Bolaños and Carlo Caputo declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal studies

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan C. Calderón
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pura Bolaños
    • 2
  • Carlo Caputo
    • 2
  1. 1.Physiology and Biochemistry Research Group-Physis, Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of Antioquia UdeAMedellínColombia
  2. 2.Laboratory of Cellular Physiology, Centre of Biophysics and BiochemistryVenezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC)CaracasVenezuela
  3. 3.Departamento de Fisiología y Bioquímica, Grupo de Investigación en Fisiología y Bioquímica-Physis, Facultad de MedicinaUniversidad de AntioquiaMedellínColombia

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