Myosin isoform expression in the prehensile tails of didelphid marsupials: functional differences between arboreal and terrestrial opossums

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2014 Aug;297(8):1364-76. doi: 10.1002/ar.22948. Epub 2014 May 16.


Prehensile tails are defined as having the ability to grasp objects and are commonly used as a fifth appendage during arboreal locomotion. Despite the independent evolution of tail prehensility in numerous mammalian genera, data relating muscle structure, physiology, and function of prehensile tails are largely incomplete. Didelphid marsupials make an excellent model to relate myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform fiber type with structure/function of caudal muscles, as all opossums have a prehensile tail and tail use varies between arboreal and terrestrial forms. Expanding on our previous work in the Virginia opossum, this study tests the hypothesis that arboreal and terrestrial opossums differentially express faster versus slower MHC isoforms, respectively. MHC isoform expression and percent fiber type distribution were determined in the flexor caudae longus (FCL) muscle of Caluromys derbianus (arboreal) and Monodelphis domestica (terrestrial), using a combination of gel electrophoresis and immunohistochemistry analyses. C. derbianus expresses three MHC isoforms (1, 2A, 2X) that are distributed (mean percentage) as 8.2% MHC-1, 2.6% 1/2A, and 89.2% 2A/X hybrid fibers. M. domestica also expresses MHC-1, 2A, and 2X, in addition to the 2B isoform, distributed as 17.0% MHC-1, 1.3% 1/2A, 9.0% 2A, 75.2% 2A/X, and 0.3% 2X/B hybrid fibers. The distribution of similar isoform fiber types differed significantly between species (P < 0.001). Although not statistically significant, C. derbianus was observed to have larger cross-sectional area (CSA) for each corresponding fiber type along with a greater amount of extra-cellular matrix. An overall faster fiber type composition (and larger fibers) in the tail of an arboreal specialist supports our hypothesis, and correlates with higher muscle force required for tail hanging and arboreal maneuvering on terminal substrates. Conversely, a broader distribution of highly oxidative fibers in the caudal musculature is well suited for tail nest building/remodeling behaviors of terrestrial opossums.

Keywords: Caluromys; Monodelphis; fiber type; muscle; prehensile; tail.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Locomotion
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Myosin Heavy Chains / metabolism*
  • Opossums / anatomy & histology
  • Opossums / classification*
  • Opossums / metabolism*
  • Protein Isoforms


  • Protein Isoforms
  • Myosin Heavy Chains