Muscle Contraction: Actin and Myosin Bonding

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Greg Chin
Muscle contraction has to do with the bonding of two proteins called actin and myosin. Explore myosin molecules and thick filaments, actin molecules and thin filaments, the organization of myosin and actin to create muscle contraction, and the role of tropomyosin and troponin. Updated: 08/24/2021

Muscle Contraction

Imagine you are sitting in a rowboat on a still lake. To move across the lake, you must place your oars in the water and pull backwards. At the end of your stroke, you lift the oars out of the water, move them forward and dip them back into the lake for the next stroke. Each movement of the oar propels the boat across the water.

Illustration of the interaction between thick and thin filaments in a muscle contraction.
Thick and Thin Filaments

Your muscles work in a similar fashion. Muscles are composed of two major protein filaments: a thick filament composed of the protein myosin and a thin filament composed of the protein actin. Muscle contraction occurs when these filaments slide over one another in a series of repetitive events. Let's see how myosin molecules play a role similar to the oars of a rower.

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  • 0:05 Muscle Contraction
  • 0:56 Myosin Muscle and…
  • 1:22 Actin Muscle and Thin…
  • 1:42 Organization of Myosin…
  • 3:19 Tropomyosin and Troponin
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Myosin Molecules and Thick Filaments

Myosin is a motor protein that generates the force in a muscle contraction much like the stroke of an oar. It consists of a head and a tail region. Together, the tails of approximately three hundred myosin molecules form the shaft of the thick filament. The myosin heads of these molecules project outward toward the thin filaments like the oars of a rowboat.

Actin Molecules and Thin Filaments

Actin is a spherical protein that forms, among other things, the thin filament in muscle cells. Thin filaments are composed of two long chains of these actin molecules that are twisted around one another. Each actin molecule has a myosin-binding site where a myosin head can bind.

Organization of Myosin and Actin

Let's consider the organization of myosin and actin in skeletal muscle, the muscles responsible for voluntary movements. Skeletal muscle is composed of a repeating structure of myosin and actin fibers. Each myosin thick filament is surrounded by actin thin filaments, and each thin filament is surrounded by thick filaments. Several of these filament bundles make up the functional portion of a muscle cell. It is also important to note that the thin filaments are attached to a very dense protein plate called a Z disc. We'll soon see why this is an important feature of actin structure.

Mechanism of Muscle Contraction

Illustration of the myosin binding site
Myosin Binding Site

So, how do the thick and thin filaments generate muscle contraction? The attraction between the myosin head and the myosin-binding site of actin are strong enough that the bond can form spontaneously. Once the two proteins are bound, the myosin protein undergoes a conformational change, or a change in protein shape, that 'cocks' the head. Like the oar stroke of a rower, the movement of the myosin head causes the thin filament to move.

This is where the Z disc comes into play. Without the anchoring the Z disc provides, the thick filaments would simply slide past the thin filaments in opposite directions. By anchoring the thin filaments in place, movement generated by the myosin heads instead causes the muscle cell to contract and, by extension, cause our body to move.

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