The cross-bridge spring: can cool muscles store elastic energy?

Science. 2013 Jun 7;340(6137):1217-20. doi: 10.1126/science.1229573. Epub 2013 Apr 25.


Muscles not only generate force. They may act as springs, providing energy storage to drive locomotion. Although extensible myofilaments are implicated as sites of energy storage, we show that intramuscular temperature gradients may enable molecular motors (cross-bridges) to store elastic strain energy. By using time-resolved small-angle x-ray diffraction paired with in situ measurements of mechanical energy exchange in flight muscles of Manduca sexta, we produced high-speed movies of x-ray equatorial reflections, indicating cross-bridge association with myofilaments. A temperature gradient within the flight muscle leads to lower cross-bridge cycling in the cooler regions. Those cross-bridges could elastically return energy at the extrema of muscle lengthening and shortening, helping drive cyclic wing motions. These results suggest that cross-bridges can perform functions other than contraction, acting as molecular links for elastic energy storage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Elasticity*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Flight, Animal
  • Manduca
  • Motion
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Myofibrils / metabolism
  • Myofibrils / physiology*
  • X-Ray Diffraction