On the terminology for describing the length-force relationship and its changes in airway smooth muscle

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2004 Dec;97(6):2029-34. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00884.2004.


The observation that the length-force relationship in airway smooth muscle can be shifted along the length axis by accommodating the muscle at different lengths has stimulated great interest. In light of the recent understanding of the dynamic nature of length-force relationship, many of our concepts regarding smooth muscle mechanical properties, including the notion that the muscle possesses a unique optimal length that correlates to maximal force generation, are likely to be incorrect. To facilitate accurate and efficient communication among scientists interested in the function of airway smooth muscle, a revised and collectively accepted nomenclature describing the adaptive and dynamic nature of the length-force relationship will be invaluable. Setting aside the issue of underlying mechanism, the purpose of this article is to define terminology that will aid investigators in describing observed phenomena. In particular, we recommend that the term "optimal length" (or any other term implying a unique length that correlates with maximal force generation) for airway smooth muscle be avoided. Instead, the in situ length or an arbitrary but clearly defined reference length should be used. We propose the usage of "length adaptation" to describe the phenomenon whereby the length-force curve of a muscle shifts along the length axis due to accommodation of the muscle at different lengths. We also discuss frequently used terms that do not have commonly accepted definitions that should be used cautiously.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology*
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Trachea / physiology*