The importance of muscle mechanics during movement: investigating power production and dynamic stability using a closed-loop system
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Animals effectively move and negotiate a variety of environments exemplifying the neuromuscular system's ability to produce complex coordinated movements. Our central thesis is that the nonlinear dynamical properties of muscle play a critical role in power production and stability during such movements. We have developed a closed-loop system that couples an isolated muscle to a physical or computational load, facilitating the study of the interactions between intrinsic muscle properties and external forces. We used this system to determine how elastic elements in the frog semimembranosus can improve power production during a jumping task and how the contractile element automatically manages energy to maintain a stable bouncing gait. Our results reveal that, during ballistic movements (e.g. jumping), series elastic elements stretch and shorten to temporally concentrate energy transfer from the contractile element to the body, amplifying power production. We measured peak instantaneous power greater than twice the maximum power the contractile element could produce alone. Our results show how, during a bouncing gait, the contractile and elastic elements autonomously interact to produce, dissipate, and recycle energy and to maintain dynamic stability without sensory feedback. Our data suggest that muscles can recover over 75% of the kinematic energy from one step and apply it to the next. These results demonstrate the effects and importance of intrinsic muscle properties during movements. Ultimately, this research can guide the development of biomimetic robotic and prosthetic technologies capable of life-like mobility.