Anticipatory motor patterns limit muscle stretch during landing in toads

Biol Lett. 2012 Dec 19;9(1):20121045. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.1045. Print 2013 Feb 23.


To safely land after a jump or hop, muscles must be actively stretched to dissipate mechanical energy. Muscles that dissipate energy can be damaged if stretched to long lengths. The likelihood of damage may be mitigated by the nervous system, if anticipatory activation of muscles prior to impact alters the muscle's operating length. Anticipatory motor recruitment is well established in landing studies and motor patterns have been shown to be modulated based on the perceived magnitude of the impact. In this study, we examine whether motor recruitment in anticipation of landing can serve a protective function by limiting maximum muscle length during a landing event. We use the anconeus muscle of toads, a landing muscle whose recruitment is modulated in anticipation of landing. We combine in vivo measurements of muscle length during landing with in vitro characterization of the force-length curve to determine the muscle's operating length. We show that muscle shortening prior to impact increases with increasing hop distance. This initial increase in muscle shortening functions to accommodate the larger stretches required when landing after long hops. These predictive motor strategies may function to reduce stretch-induced muscle damage by constraining maximum muscle length, despite variation in the magnitude of impact.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Bufo marinus / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Locomotion*
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*