The membrane potential of frog single muscle fibers in solutions containing tetrodotoxin was controlled with a two-electrode voltage clamp. Local contractions elicited by 100-ms square steps of depolarization were observed microscopically and recorded on cinefilm. The absence of myofibrillar folding with shortening to striation spacings below 1.95 µm served as a criterion for activation of the entire fiber cross section. With depolarizing steps of increasing magnitude, shortening occurred first in the most superficial myofibrils and spread inward to involve axial myofibrils as the depolarization was increased. In contractions in which the entire fiber cross section shortened actively, both the extent of shortening and the velocity of shortening at a given striation spacing could be graded by varying the magnitude of the depolarization step. The results provide evidence that the degree of activation of individual myofibrils can be graded with membrane depolarization
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