The results of previous studies suggest that the maximum mechanical efficiency of rat papillary muscles is lower during a contraction protocol involving sinusoidal length changes than during one involving afterloaded isotonic contractions. The aim of this study was to compare directly the efficiency of isolated rat papillary muscle preparations in isotonic and sinusoidal contraction protocols. Experiments were performed in vitro (27 degrees C) using left ventricular papillary muscles from adult rats. Each preparation performed three contraction protocols: (i) low-frequency afterloaded isotonic contractions (10 twitches at 0.2 Hz), (ii) sinusoidal length change contractions with phasic stimulation (40 twitches at 2 Hz) and (iii) high-frequency afterloaded isotonic contractions (40 twitches at 2 Hz). The first two protocols resembled those used in previous studies and the third combined the characteristics of the first two. The parameters for each protocol were adjusted to those that gave maximum efficiency. For the afterloaded isotonic protocols, the afterload was set to 0.3 of the maximum developed force. The sinusoidal length change protocol incorporated a cycle amplitude of +/−5 % resting length and a stimulus phase of −10 degrees. Measurements of force output, muscle length change and muscle temperature change were used to calculate the work and heat produced during and after each protocol. Net mechanical efficiency was defined as the proportion of the energy (enthalpy) liberated by the muscle that appeared as work. The efficiency in the low-frequency, isotonic contraction protocol was 21.1+/−1.4 % (mean +/− s.e.m., N=6) and that in the sinusoidal protocol was 13.2+/−0.7 %, consistent with previous results. This difference was not due to the higher frequency or greater number of twitches because efficiency in the high-frequency, isotonic protocol was 21.5+/−1.0 %. Although these results apparently confirm that efficiency is protocol-dependent, additional experiments designed to measure work output unambiguously indicated that the method used to calculate work output in isotonic contractions overestimated actual work output. When net work output, which excludes work done by parallel elastic elements, rather than total work output was used to determine efficiency in afterloaded isotonic contractions, efficiency was similar to that for sinusoidal contractions. The maximum net mechanical efficiency of rat papillary muscles performing afterloaded isotonic or sinusoidal length change contractions was between 10 and 15 %.

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