Types of Muscle Tissues

This photograph shows a man playing tennis.

Figure 15.1. Tennis Player
Athletes rely on toned skeletal muscles to supply the force required for movement. (credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts/flickr)
 

Introduction

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the organization of muscle tissue
  • Describe the function and structure of skeletal, cardiac muscle, and smooth muscle
  • Explain how muscles work with tendons to move the body
  • Describe how muscles contract and relax
  • Define the process of muscle metabolism
  • Explain how the nervous system controls muscle tension
  • Relate the connections between exercise and muscle performance
  • Explain the development and regeneration of muscle tissue

When most people think of muscles, they think of the muscles that are visible just under the skin, particularly of the limbs. These are skeletal muscles, so-named because most of them move the skeleton. These are the voluntary muscles of the body because they are under our conscious control. But there are two other types of muscle in the body, with distinctly different jobs. Cardiac muscle, found in the heart, is concerned with pumping blood through the circulatory system. Smooth muscle is concerned with various types of movements, such as having one’s hair stand on end when cold or frightened, or moving food through the digestive system. These 2 types of tissue are considered involuntary because we do not consciously control them.  This chapter will examine the structure and function of these three types of muscles.

Overview of Muscle Tissues

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the different types of muscle
  • Explain contractibility and extensibility

Muscle is one of the four primary tissue types of the body, and the body contains three types of muscle tissue: skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, and smooth muscle (Figure 15.2). The primary function of all muscle tissue is movement.  The three muscle tissues have some properties in common; they all exhibit a quality called excitability as their plasma membranes can change their electrical states (from polarized to depolarized) and send an electrical wave called an action potential along the entire length of the membrane. While the nervous system can influence the excitability of cardiac and smooth muscle to some degree, skeletal muscle completely depends on signaling from the nervous system to work properly. On the other hand, both cardiac muscle and smooth muscle can respond to other stimuli, such as hormones and local stimuli.

This figure show the micrographs of skeletal muscle, smooth muscle, and cardiac muscle cells.
Figure 15.2. The Three Types of Muscle Tissue
The body contains three types of muscle tissue: (a) skeletal muscle, (b) smooth muscle, and (c) cardiac muscle. From top, LM × 1600, LM × 1600, LM × 1600. (Micrographs provided by the Regents of University of Michigan Medical School © 2012)
 

The muscles all begin the actual process of contracting (shortening) when a protein called actin is pulled by a protein called myosin. This occurs in striated muscle (skeletal and cardiac) after specific binding sites on the actin have been exposed in response to the interaction between calcium ions (Ca++) and proteins (troponin and tropomyosin) that “shield” the actin-binding sites. Ca++ also is required for the contraction of smooth muscle, although its role is different: here Ca++ activates enzymes, which in turn activate myosin heads. All muscles require adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to continue the process of contracting, and they all relax when the Ca++ is removed and the actin-binding sites are re-shielded.

A muscle can return to its original length when relaxed due to a quality of muscle tissue called elasticity. It can recoil back to its original length due to elastic fibers. Muscle tissue also has the quality of extensibility; it can stretch or extend. Contractility allows muscle tissue to pull on its attachment points and shorten with force.

Differences among the three muscle types include the microscopic organization of their contractile proteins—actin and myosin. The actin and myosin proteins are arranged very regularly in the cytoplasm of individual muscle cells (referred to as fibers) in both skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle, which creates a pattern, or stripes, called striations. The striations are visible with a light microscope under high magnification (see Figure 15.2). Skeletal muscle fibers are multinucleated structures that compose the skeletal muscle. The nuclei are found in the peripheral region of the fiber. Cardiac muscle fibers each have one to two centrally-located nuclei and are physically and electrically connected to each other so that the entire heart contracts as one unit (called a syncytium).

Because the actin and myosin are not arranged in such regular fashion in smooth muscle, the cytoplasm of a smooth muscle fiber, which has only a single nucleus, has a uniform, nonstriated appearance (resulting in the name smooth muscle). However, the less organized appearance of smooth muscle should not be interpreted as less efficient. Smooth muscle in the walls of arteries is a critical component that regulates blood pressure necessary to push blood through the circulatory system; and smooth muscle in the skin, visceral organs, and internal passageways is essential for moving all materials through the body.