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9.3D: Muscle Tone

Muscle tone is a measure of a muscle’s resistance to stretching while in a passive resting state.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

Describe the factors involved in muscle tone

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Key Points

 

  • Muscle tone is the maintenance of partial contraction of a muscle, important for generating reflexes, maintaining posture and balance, and controlling proper function of other organ systems.
  • Tone is controlled by the sensory muscle spindle, which measures muscle stretch.
  • Tone is not limited to skeletal muscles, but is also a property of cardiac and smooth muscles.

 

Key Terms

 

  • muscle spindle: A sensory unit associated with muscle tissue that is responsible for maintaining muscle tone.
  • muscle tone: The continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles, which helps maintain posture.
  • golgi tendon organ: A sensory unit associated with a tendon that is responsible for preventing damage to the associated muscle.

Even when at rest, muscle fibers are at least partially contracted, possessing a small degree of tension which is termed muscle tone or tonus. Muscle tone is controlled by neuronal impulses and influenced by receptors found in the muscle and tendons.

This influence leads to the generation of reflexes in the spinal cord, such as the immediately obvious knee jerk reaction but also including key functions such as the posture maintenance and proper digestive system function..

This diagram depicts muscle fibers in both contracted and relaxed positions. Terms include I-band, H-zone, Cap Z, Titin, Z-Disc, Myocin Head, Myocin Tail, Actin Filament, M-Line.

Sliding Filament Model of Contraction: Muscle fibers in relaxed and contracted positions. Muscle tone ensures that even when at rest the muscle is at least partially contracted.

 

Control of Muscle Tone

 

The main regulator of muscle tone is the muscle spindle, a small sensory unit that is closely associated with and lies parallel to a muscle. Connecting to the endomysium of a muscle fiber, muscle spindles are composed of nuclear bag fibers and nuclear chain fibers. Both are similar to muscle fibers in that they contain actin and myosin myofilaments that allow them to stretch with the muscle. However, unlike skeletal muscle fibers where the nuclei are spread out and located at the periphery of the cell, in nuclear bag and nuclear chain fibers the nuclei are located in a central region which is enlarged in nuclear bag fibers.

Both cells of the muscle spindle contain sensory neurons. When stretched, muscle spindles become activated, triggering impulses to the spinal cord that can generate an immediate reflex. Spindles can also trigger impulses to the cerebral cortex providing information about the degree of stretch within the muscle.

To maintain tone, spindles also operate a feedback loop by directly triggering motor neurons linked to their associated muscles. If tone decreases and the muscle stretches the spindle, an impulse results in a muscle contraction. With this contraction, the spindle is no longer stretched.

A similar system is found in the tendons attaching muscle to bone. Distinct stretch receptors called golgi tendon organs assess the level of stretch within the tendon. The sensitivity of the golgi tendon organ is significantly less than that of the spindle, so it is thought they exist to prevent damage rather than control muscle tone.

 

Smooth and Cardiac Muscles

 

Smooth and cardiac muscles do not have specialized muscle spindles. Tone is maintained through autonomous feedback from the muscle fibers, neurons, and associated tissues.