Locomotion arises from the complex and coordinated function of limb muscles. Yet muscle function is dynamic over the course of a single stride and between strides for animals moving at different speeds or on variable terrain. While it is clear that motor unit recruitment can vary between and within muscles, we know little about how work is distributed within and between muscles under in vivo conditions. Here we show that the lateral gastrocnemius (LG) of helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) performs considerably more work than its synergist, the medial gastrocnemius (MG) and that the proximal region of the MG (pMG) performs more work than the distal region (dMG). Positive work done by the LG was approximately twice that of the proximal MG when the birds walked at 0.5 ms -1, and four times when running at 2.0 m s-1. This is probably due to different moments at the knee, as well as differences in motor unit recruitment. The dMG performed less work than the pMG because its apparent dynamic stiffness was greater, and because it exhibited a greater recruitment of slow-twitch fibres. The greater compliance of the pMG leads to increased stretch of its fascicles at the onset of force, further enhancing force production. Our results demonstrate the capacity for functional diversity between and within muscle synergists, which increases with changes in gait and speed.
Higham, Timothy EBiewener, Andrew AWakeling, James MengResearch Support, N.I.H., ExtramuralEngland2007/11/08 09:00Biol Lett. 2008 Feb 23;4(1):41-4.