The function of a complex system such as a smooth muscle cell is the result of the active interaction among molecules and molecular aggregates. Emergent macroscopic manifestations of these molecular interactions, such as the length-force relationship and its associated length adaptation, are well documented, but the molecular constituents and organization that give rise to these emergent muscle behaviors remain largely unknown. In this minireview, we describe emergent properties of airway smooth muscle that seem to have originated from inherent fragility of the cellular structures, which has been increasingly recognized as a unique and important smooth muscle attribute. We also describe molecular interactions (based on direct and indirect evidence) that may confer malleability on fragile structural elements that in turn may allow the muscle to adapt to large and frequent changes in cell dimensions. Understanding how smooth muscle works may hinge on how well we can relate molecular events to its emergent macroscopic functions
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