Tension and dynamic stiffness of passive rabbit psoas, rabbit semitendinosus, and waterbug indirect flight muscles were investigated to study the contribution of weak-binding cross-bridges and elastic filaments (titin and minititin) to the passive mechanical behavior of these muscles. Experimentally, a functional dissection of the relative contribution of actomyosin cross-bridges and titin and minititin was achieved by 1) comparing mechanically skinned muscle fibers before and after selective removal of actin filaments with a noncalcium-requiring gelsolin fragment (FX-45), and 2) studying passive tension and stiffness as a function of sarcomere length, ionic strength, temperature, and the inhibitory effect of a carboxyl-terminal fragment of smooth muscle caldesmon. Our data show that weak bridges exist in both rabbit skeletal muscle and insect flight muscle at physiological ionic strength and room temperature. In rabbit psoas fibers, weak bridge stiffness appears to vary with both thin-thick filament overlap and with the magnitude of passive tension. Plots of passive tension versus passive stiffness are multiphasic and strikingly similar for these three muscles of distinct sarcomere proportions and elastic proteins. The tension-stiffness plot appears to be a powerful tool in discerning changes in the mechanical behavior of the elastic filaments. The stress-strain and stiffness-strain curves of all three muscles can be merged into one, by normalizing strain rate and strain amplitude of the extensible segment of titin and minititin, further supporting the segmental extension model of resting tension development.
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