Ca2+ Causes Release of Myosin Heads from the Thick Filament Surface on the Milliseconds Time Scale
We have used electron microscopy to study the structural changes induced when myosin filaments are activated by Ca2+. Negative staining reveals that when Ca2+ binds to the heads of relaxed Ca2+ -regulated myosin filaments, the helically ordered myosin heads become disordered and project further from the filament surface. Cryo-electron microscopy of unstained, frozen-hydrated specimens supports this finding, and shows that disordering is reversible on removal of Ca2+. The structural change is thus a result of Ca2+ binding alone and not an artifact of staining. Comparison of the two techniques suggests that negative staining preserves the structure induced by Ca2+ -binding. We therefore used a time-resolved negative staining technique to determine the time scale of the structural change. Full disordering was observed within 30 ms of Ca2+ addition, and had started to occur within 10 ms, showing that the change occurs on the physiological time scale. Comparison with studies of single heavy meromyosin molecules suggests that an increased mobility of myosin heads induced by Ca2+ binding underlies the changes in filament structure that we observe. We conclude that the loosening of the array of myosin heads that occurs on activation is real and physiological; it may function to make activated myosin heads freer to contact actin filaments during muscle contraction.