Skeletal Muscle

Skeletal muscles are generally attached to bones at both ends by means of tendons; hence, contraction produces movements of the skeleton. There are exceptions to this pattern, however. The tongue, superior portion of the esophagus, anal sphincter, and diaphragm are also composed of skeletal muscle, but they do not cause movements of the skeleton.

Beginning at about the fourth week of embryonic development, separate cells called myoblasts fuse together to form skeletal muscle fibers, or myofibers (from the Greek myos, meaning "muscle"). Although myofibers are often referred to as skeletal muscle cells, each is actually a syncytium, or multinucleate mass formed from the union of separate cells. Despite their unique origin and structure, each myofiber contains mitochondria and other organelles (described in chapter 3) common to all cells.

The muscle fibers within a skeletal muscle are arranged in bundles, and within these bundles the fibers extend in parallel from one end to the other of the bundle. The parallel arrangement of muscle fibers (shown in fig. 1.7) allows each fiber to be controlled individually: one can thus contract fewer or more muscle fibers and, in this way, vary the strength of contraction of the whole muscle. The ability to vary, or "grade," the strength of skeletal muscle contraction is obviously needed for precise control of skeletal movements.

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