Length adaptation of airway smooth muscle

Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2008 Jan 1;5(1):62-7. doi: 10.1513/pats.200705-056VS.


Many types of smooth muscle, including airway smooth muscle (ASM), are capable of generating maximal force over a large length range due to length adaptation, which is a relatively rapid process in which smooth muscle regains contractility after experiencing a force decrease induced by length fluctuation. Although the underlying mechanism is unclear, it is believed that structural malleability of smooth muscle cells is essential for the adaptation to occur. The process is triggered by strain on the cell cytoskeleton that results in a series of yet undefined biochemical and biophysical events leading to restructuring of the cytoskeleton and contractile apparatus and consequently optimization of the overlap between the myosin and actin filaments. Although length adaptability is an intrinsic property of smooth muscle, maladaptation of ASM could result in excessive constriction of the airways and the inability of deep inspirations to dilate them. In this article, we describe the phenomenon of length adaptation in ASM and some possible underlying mechanisms that involve the myosin filament assembly and disassembly. We discuss a possible role of maladaptation of ASM in the pathogenesis of asthma. We believe that length adaptation in ASM is mediated by specific proteins and their posttranslational regulations involving covalent modifications, such as phosphorylation. The discovery of these molecules and the processes that regulate their activity will greatly enhance our understanding of the basic mechanisms of ASM contraction and will suggest molecular targets to alleviate asthma exacerbation related to excessive constriction of the airways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actins / physiology
  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiopathology
  • Myosins / physiology
  • Respiratory Mechanics


  • Actins
  • Myosins