A review of the thermal sensitivity of the mechanics of vertebrate skeletal muscle

J Comp Physiol B. 2013 Aug;183(6):723-33. doi: 10.1007/s00360-013-0748-1. Epub 2013 Mar 13.


Environmental temperature varies spatially and temporally, affecting many aspects of an organism's biology. In ectotherms, variation in environmental temperature can cause parallel changes in skeletal muscle temperature, potentially leading to significant alterations in muscle performance. Endotherms can also undergo meaningful changes in skeletal muscle temperature that can affect muscle performance. Alterations in skeletal muscle temperature can affect contractile performance in both endotherms and ectotherms, changing the rates of force generation and relaxation, shortening velocity, and consequently mechanical power. Such alterations in the mechanical performance of skeletal muscle can in turn affect locomotory performance and behaviour. For instance, as temperature increases, a consequent improvement in limb muscle performance causes some lizard species to be more likely to flee from a potential predator. However, at lower temperatures, they are much more likely to stand their ground, show threatening displays and even bite. There is no consistent pattern in reported effects of temperature on skeletal muscle fatigue resistance. This review focuses on the effects of temperature variation on skeletal muscle performance in vertebrates, and investigates the thermal sensitivity of different mechanical measures of skeletal muscle performance. The plasticity of thermal sensitivity in skeletal muscle performance has been reviewed to investigate the extent to which individuals can acclimate to chronic changes in their thermal environment. The effects of thermal sensitivity of muscle performance are placed in a wider context by relating thermal sensitivity of skeletal muscle performance to aspects of vertebrate species distribution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Environment
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology
  • Motor Activity
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fatigue / physiology
  • Muscle Relaxation / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Temperature
  • Vertebrates