Striated muscle is well known to exist in either of two states-contraction or relaxation-under the regulation of Ca2+ concentration. Described here is a less well-known third, intermediate state induced under conditions of partial activation, known as SPOC (SPontaneous Oscillatory Contraction). This state is characterised by auto-oscillation between rapid-lengthening and slow-shortening phases. Notably, SPOC occurs in skinned muscle fibres and is therefore not the result of fluctuating Ca2+ levels, but is rather an intrinsic and fundamental phenomenon of the actomyosin motor. Summarised in this review are the experimental data on SPOC and its fundamental mechanism. SPOC presents a novel technique for studying independent communication and coordination between sarcomeres. In cardiac muscle, this auto-oscillatory property may work in concert with electro-chemical signalling to coordinate the heartbeat. Further, SPOC may represent a new way of demonstrating functional defects of sarcomeres in human heart failure.
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