Fascicle architecture (length and pennation angle) can vary regionally within a muscle. The architectural variability in human muscles has been evaluated in vivo, but the interindividual variation and its determinants remain unclear. Considering that within-muscle non-uniform changes in pennation angle are associated with change in muscle size by chronic mechanical loading, we hypothesized that the regional variation in fascicle architecture is dependent on interindividual variation in muscle size. To test this hypothesis, we reconstructed fascicles three-dimensionally along and across the whole medial gastrocnemius in the right lower leg of 15 healthy adults (10 males and 5 females, 23.7 ± 3.3 years, 165.8 ± 8.3 cm, 61.9 ± 11.4 kg, mean ± standard deviation) in neutral ankle joint position with the knee fully extended, using magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging and tractography. The 3D-reconstructed fascicles arose from the deep aponeurosis with variable lengths and angles both in sagittal and coronal planes. The fascicle length was significantly longer in the middle (middle-medial: 52.4 ± 6.1 mm, middle-lateral: 52.0 ± 5.1 mm) compared to distal regions (distal-medial: 41.0 ± 5.0 mm, distal-lateral: 38.9 ± 3.6 mm, p < 0.001). The 2D pennation angle (angle relative to muscle surface) was significantly greater in distal than middle regions, and medial than lateral regions (middle-medial: 26.6 ± 3.1°, middle-lateral: 24.1 ± 2.3°, distal-medial: 31.2 ± 3.6°, distal-lateral: 29.2 ± 3.0°, p ≤ 0.017), while only a proximo-distal difference was significant (p < 0.001) for 3D pennation angle (angle relative to line of action of muscle). These results clearly indicate fascicle's architectural variation in 3D. The magnitude of regional variation evaluated as standard deviation across regions differed considerably among individuals (4.0–10.7 mm for fascicle length, 0.9–5.0° for 2D pennation angle, and 3.0–8.8° for 3D pennation angle), which was positively correlated with the muscle volume normalized to body mass (r = 0.659–0.828, p ≤ 0.008). These findings indicate muscle-size dependence of the variability of fascicle architecture.
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