Direct intraoperative measurement of isometric contractile properties in living human muscle

J Physiol. 2023 May;601(10):1817-1830. doi: 10.1113/JP284092. Epub 2023 Apr 25.

Abstract

Skeletal muscle's isometric contractile properties are one of the classic structure-function relationships in all of biology allowing for extrapolation of single fibre mechanical properties to whole muscle properties based on the muscle's optimal fibre length and physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA). However, this relationship has only been validated in small animals and then extrapolated to human muscles, which are much larger in terms of length and PCSA. The present study aimed to measure directly the in situ properties and function of the human gracilis muscle to validate this relationship. We leveraged a unique surgical technique in which a human gracilis muscle is transferred from the thigh to the arm, restoring elbow flexion after brachial plexus injury. During this surgery, we directly measured subject specific gracilis muscle force-length relationship in situ and properties ex vivo. Each subject's optimal fibre length was calculated from their muscle's length-tension properties. Each subject's PCSA was calculated from their muscle volume and optimal fibre length. From these experimental data, we established a human muscle fibre-specific tension of 171 kPa. We also determined that average gracilis optimal fibre length is 12.9 cm. Using this subject-specific fibre length, we observed an excellent fit between experimental and theorical active length-tension curves. However, these fibre lengths were about half of the previously reported optimal fascicle lengths of 23 cm. Thus, the long gracilis muscle appears to be composed of relatively short fibres acting in parallel that may not have been appreciated based on traditional anatomical methods. KEY POINTS: Skeletal muscle's isometric contractile properties represent one of the classic structure-function relationships in all of biology and allow scaling single fibre mechanical properties to whole muscle properties based on the muscle's architecture. This physiological relationship has only been validated in small animals but is often extrapolated to human muscles, which are orders of magnitude larger. We leverage a unique surgical technique in which a human gracilis muscle is transplanted from the thigh to the arm to restore elbow flexion after brachial plexus injury, aiming to directly measure muscles properties in situ and test directly the architectural scaling predictions. Using these direct measurements, we establish human muscle fibre-specific tension of ∼170 kPa. Furthermore, we show that the gracilis muscle actually functions as a muscle with relatively short fibres acting in parallel vs. long fibres as previously assumed based on traditional anatomical models.

Keywords: muscle architecture; muscle modelling; orthopaedic surgery; specific tension.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Elbow
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal* / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology