Unlike the static length-tension curve of striated muscle, airway and urinary bladder smooth muscles display a dynamic length-tension curve. Much less is known about the plasticity of the length-tension curve of vascular smooth muscle. The present study demonstrates that there were significant increases of ∼15% in the phasic phase and ∼10% in the tonic phase of a third KCl-induced contraction of a rabbit femoral artery ring relative to the first contraction after a 20% decrease in length from an optimal muscle length (L0) to 0.8-fold L0. Typically, three repeated contractions were necessary for full length adaptation to occur. The tonic phase of a third KCl-induced contraction was increased by ∼50% after the release of tissues from 1.25-fold to 0.75-fold Lo. The mechanism for this phenomenon did not appear to lie in thick filament regulation because there was no increase in myosin light chain (MLC) phosphorylation to support the increase in tension nor was length adaptation abolished when Ca2+ entry was limited by nifedipine and when Rho kinase (ROCK) was blocked by H-1152. However, length adaptation of both the phasic and tonic phases was abolished when actin polymerization was inhibited through blockade of the plus end of actin by cytochalasin-D. Interestingly, inhibition of actin polymerization when G-actin monomers were sequestered by latrunculin-B increased the phasic phase and had no effect on the tonic phase of contraction during length adaptation. These data suggest that for a given level of cytosolic free Ca2+, active tension in the femoral artery can be sensitized not only by regulation of MLC phosphatase via ROCK and protein kinase C, as has been reported by others, but also by a nonmyosin regulatory mechanism involving actin polymerization. Dysregulation of this form of active tension modulation may provide insight into alterations of large artery stiffness in hypertension
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