Based on two criteria, the tightness of packing of myosin rods within the backbone of the filament and the degree of order of the myosin heads, thick filaments isolated from a control group of rat hearts had three different structures. Two of the structures of thick filaments had ordered myosin heads and were distinguishable from each other by the difference in tightness of packing of the myosin rods. Depending on the packing, their structure has been called loose or tight. The third structure had narrow shafts and disordered myosin heads extending at different angles from the backbone. This structure has been called disordered. After phosphorylation of myosin-binding protein C (MyBP-C) with protein kinase A (PKA), almost all thick filaments exhibited the loose structure. Transitions from one structure to another in quiescent muscles were produced by changing the concentration of extracellular Ca. The probability of interaction between isolated thick and thin filaments in control, PKA-treated preparations, and preparations exposed to different Ca concentrations was estimated by electron microscopy. Interactions were more frequent with phosphorylated thick filaments having the loose structure than with either the tight or disordered structure. In view of the presence of MgATP and the absence of Ca, the interaction between the myosin heads and the thin filaments was most likely the weak attachment that precedes the force-generating steps in the cross-bridge cycle. These results suggest that phosphorylation of MyBP-C in cardiac thick filaments increases the probability of cross-bridges forming weak attachments to thin filaments in the absence of activation. This mechanism may modulate the number of cross-bridges generating force during activation.
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