19th January 2021

Book in Focus: An Introduction to Smooth Muscle Mechanics (2nd Edition)

In this edition of Book in Focus, Chun Y. Seow, Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Canada, guides us through the newly-updated second edition of his accessible yet comprehensive textbook, An Introduction to Smooth Muscle Mechanics.

An Introduction to Smooth Muscle Mechanics (2nd Edition)

By Chun Y. Seow

The need for an introductory-level textbook on smooth muscle mechanics became obvious when I started to teach the subject in a graduate-level course and parts of some undergraduate courses at the University of British Columbia many years ago. The students who took the courses came from diverse backgrounds, with a wide range of departmental affiliations (such as Pathology, Physiology, Pharmacology, Mechanical Engineering, Biochemistry, Human Kinetics, Physiotherapy, Physical Education, and Nursing). A challenge I faced was to make this subject understandable to these students who possessed limited knowledge of muscle physiology, while many of them also lacked general knowledge about the physics of solids and fluid mechanics. Ironically, many of them were not interested in learning about the latest developments in the field of smooth muscle research, although most of them used smooth muscle preparations in their thesis research. Smooth muscle to them was a tool. For example, a pharmacology student studied the interaction of drugs with receptors on the cell membrane of smooth muscle, and the force produced by the muscle was taken as the final outcome of that interaction.

Questions from the class were usually related to the methodology, instrumentation, and data analysis needed for a smooth muscle experiment in which mechanical properties of the tissue were measured. Available textbooks on muscle physiology or biomechanics unfortunately fall into two categories, one with too little information (such as general physiology textbooks), and the other with too much (books dealing with advanced and sometimes controversial topics of muscle physiology, intended for smooth muscle researchers). Neither of them was helpful to my class.

This book is therefore written for students who are interested in the measurement and analysis of the basic mechanical properties of smooth muscle. To understand and interpret the data from their experiments, it is necessary that students know about the essentials of smooth muscle function and structure, and have an understanding of some fundamentals in physics, specifically mechanics. To properly understand muscle mechanics, including elements of solid and fluid mechanics, mathematics is an essential tool. It may be possible to explain the mechanical properties and behaviors of smooth muscle in non-mathematical terms, but such explanations will be superficial and imprecise.

The use of mathematical formulation and analysis in this book is based on easily understood basic principles, and is intended to foster the ability of students to gain both qualitative and quantitative understanding of the subject through their own derivations based on relatively simple facts and assumptions. It is also intended to cultivate a habit of systematic approach in obtaining solutions through an understanding of the fundamentals underlying the problem. The detailed, step-by-step mathematical derivation is therefore a unique feature of this book. I believe that some smooth muscle characteristics, such as the exponential time course of shortening against a constant load, and the kinetics of the actomyosin cross-bridge cycle and its mechanical manifestation as a hyperbolic force-velocity relationship, can only be truly understood through mathematics.

Although the book is written for graduate-level courses, the prerequisite for this book is an elementary understanding of physics, biology, and mathematics at the college freshman level. Advanced topics in muscle mechanics, physiology, biochemistry, and pharmacology are, however, avoided in the text.

Chun Y. Seow is a Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is also a Principal Investigator at the UBC Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. He specializes in muscle physiology and pathology, especially airway smooth muscle and its role in regulating lung function and dysfunction seen in diseases such as asthma. As a leader at the cutting-edge of research, he has participated in various discoveries leading to the current understanding of how smooth muscle works, both in health and in disease.

An Introduction to Smooth Muscle Mechanics (2nd Edition) is available now from the Cambridge Scholars website, and a free 30-page extract can be accessed by clicking hereEnter the code PROMO25 at the checkout for a 25% discount.