The responses of frog muscle spindles and fast and slow muscle fibres to a variety of mechanical inputs

J Physiol. 1971 Oct;218(1):1-17. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1971.sp009601.


1. The tension in the iliofibularis muscle of frogs was recorded while the muscle was stretched or released. At the same time recordings were made from single spindle afferents in dorsal root filaments. Either large or small motor nerve fibres were stimulated in split ventral root filaments.2. While small motor nerve fibres were stimulated the discharge from muscle spindle afferents was greatly increased by stretching, and greatly reduced by shortening the muscle. This sensitivity to movement was shown even if the movements were small, so that a stretch of 0.2% of the muscle length was sufficient to cause a pronounced increase in the afferent discharge.3. In contrast, during stimulation of the large motor nerve fibres the spindle was much less sensitive to movements with the result that even stretches or releases of the muscle by 1 mm did not cause very large changes in the discharge frequency.4. The tension in slow extrafusal muscle fibres in many ways mirrored the spindle discharge during the stimulation of small motor nerve fibres, for the tension was greatly increased by stretching, even through small distances, and greatly reduced by releasing the muscle. The tension in fast extrafusal muscle fibres was much less changed by such movements, and thus was rather like the spindle discharge during stimulation of large motor nerve fibres.5. As the extrafusal muscle fibres do not directly pull on and excite the spindle afferents, the simplest explanation for the similarities between the muscle tension and the spindle discharge is that the mechanical properties of the intrafusal muscle fibres innervated by the large motor nerve fibres are like those of fast extrafusal muscle fibres, and that the mechanical properties of the small intrafusal fibres are similar to those of slow extrafusal muscle fibres.6. It is shown that the cross-bridge sliding filament mechanism of muscle contraction provides a ready explanation for the differences found between fast and slow muscles, and it is concluded that a most important functional difference between the two sorts of intrafusal muscle fibres is the speed of their contractions, for it is this which determines their contrasting actions on the spindle.7. It was also found that low rates (< 4/sec) of small motor nerve fibre stimulation were often very effective in exciting the spindles. These rates produced rather little extrafusal tension.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Anura
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Spindles / physiology*
  • Muscles / physiology*
  • Rana pipiens
  • Rana temporaria