Effects of muscle shortening on the responses of cat tendon organs to unfused contractions

J Neurophysiol. 1988 May;59(5):1510-23. doi: 10.1152/jn.1988.59.5.1510.


1. The discharges from individual Golgi tendon organs of peroneus tertius and brevis muscles were recorded in anesthetized cats. Responses to unfused isometric contractions of single motor units and combinations of motor units were compared with responses to contractions eliciting muscle shortening (i.e., shortening contractions). 2. In 75% of the examined instances, the effect of muscle shortening during unfused contractions was a slight decrease in tendon organ activation, in keeping with the reduction of contractile tension recorded at the muscle tendon. In other instances there was either no change in tendon organ response or, in less than 10% of instances, a slight increase For two motor units eliciting similar activation of a given tendon organ under isometric conditions, the effect of shortening contraction was not necessarily the same. 3. The reductions observed in tendon organ discharges upon muscle shortening were less than proportional to the reductions of contractile tension and difficult to correlate with the properties of motor units, as determined under isometric conditions. The present observations suggest three main reasons for this lack of relation. 4. The first reason depended on the properties of motor units, in that the relation between length changes and tension changes was not the same for all units. Two motor units developing similar isometric tensions did not necessarily produce the same degree of muscle shortening. Some units produced relatively significant shortening without much loss of tension. 5. Second, the dynamic sensitivity of tendon organs is known to exert a major influence on their responses to isometric unfused contractions, accounting for 1:1 driving of discharge during tension oscillations and high frequency bursts upon abrupt increase of tension. Although less tension was produced and the rate of tension development was slower in shortening contractions, similar manifestations of the dynamic sensitivity of tendon organs were observed. In such cases, the responses of tendon organs were the same whether or not the muscle shortened during contraction. 6. Third, when several motor units were stimulated in combination, the unloading influences of in-parallel units were facilitated by muscle shortening so that unloading effects, which were hardly visible under isometric conditions became evident during shortening contractions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Tendons / physiology*