The passive tension-sarcomere length relation of rat cardiac muscle was investigated by studying passive (or not activated) single myocytes and trabeculae. The contribution of collagen, titin, microtubules, and intermediate filaments to tension and stiffness was investigated by measuring (1) the effects of KCl/KI extraction on both trabeculae and single myocytes, (2) the effect of trypsin digestion on single myocytes, and (3) the effect of colchicine on single myocytes. It was found that over the working range of sarcomeres in the heart (lengths approximately 1.9–2.2 microns), collagen and titin are the most important contributors to passive tension with titin dominating at the shorter end of the working range and collagen at longer lengths. Microtubules made a modest contribution to passive tension in some cells, but on average their contribution was not significant. Finally, intermediate filaments contributed about 10% to passive tension of trabeculae at sarcomere lengths from approximately 1.9 to 2.1 microns, and their contribution dropped to only a few percent at longer lengths. At physiological sarcomere lengths of the heart, cardiac titin developed much higher tensions (> 20-fold) than did skeletal muscle titin at comparable lengths. This might be related to the finding that cardiac titin has a molecular mass of 2.5 MDa, 0.3–0.5 MDa smaller than titin of mammalian skeletal muscle, which is predicted to result in a much shorter extensible titin segment in the I-band of cardiac muscle. Passive stress plotted versus the strain of the extensible titin segment showed that the stress-strain relationships are similar in cardiac and skeletal muscle. The difference in passive stress between cardiac and skeletal muscle at the sarcomere level predominantly resulted from much higher strains of the I-segment of cardiac titin at a given sarcomere length. By expressing a smaller titin isoform, without changing the properties of the molecule itself, cardiac muscle is able to develop significant levels of passive tension at physiological sarcomere lengths.
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