Of Sliding Filaments and Swinging Lever-Arms

  • David Aitchison Smith


This chapter describes the results of experiments on striated muscle which led to the sliding filament theory and its driving mechanism, the swinging lever-arm. The groundwork was laid by A.V. Hill, whose measurements of tension and heat output led to the eponymous tension-velocity equation for shortening muscle. In 1953, observations of sliding filaments in the sarcomeres led to A.F. Huxley’s quantitative model of muscle contraction. We review the structural, mechanical and kinetic assumptions of Huxley’s model, in which the geometry of the filament lattice is replaced by a vernier model which reflects the different periods of myosin and actin filaments. More recent experiments suggest ways in which Huxley’s model can be updated. The key experiment was made in 1971 by Huxley and Simmons, who found that a step change in muscle length generates an asymmetric tension transient, signalling a fast transition to a higher-tension state. The structural basis of this behaviour is the swinging-lever-arm mechanism; in this chapter we explore how it can be integrated with vernier models of muscle contraction.


Hill equation Power output Efficiency Vernier model Length step 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Aitchison Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physiology, Anatomy and MicrobiologyLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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