Skeletal muscle fibres can change their myosin heavy-chain (MyHC) isoform and cross-sectional area, which determine their contraction velocity and maximum force generation, respectively, to adapt to varying functional loads. In general, reduced muscle activity induces transition towards faster fibres and a decrease in fibre cross-sectional area.In order to investigate the effect of a reduction in masticatory load on three functionally different jaw muscles, the MyHC composition and the corresponding cross-sectional area of fibres were determined in the superficial masseter, superficial temporalis, and digastric muscles of male juvenile New Zealand White rabbits that had been raised on a soft diet (n = 8) from 8 to 20 weeks of age and in those of normal diet controls (n = 8). Differences between groups were tested for statistical significance using a Mann-Whitney rank sum test.The proportion and cross-sectional area of fibres co-expressing MyHC-I and MyHC-cardiac alpha were significantly smaller in the masseter muscles of the animals that had been fed soft food than in those of the controls. In contrast, the proportions and cross-sectional areas of the various fibre types in the temporalis and digastric muscles did not differ significantly between the groups.The results suggest that reducing the masticatory load during development affects the contraction velocity and maximum force generation of the jaw-closing muscles that are primarily responsible for force generation during chewing. These muscles adapt structurally to the reduced functional load with changes in the MyHC composition and cross-sectional area mainly within their slow fibre compartment.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a European Orthodontic