The active mechanical properties of heart muscle are load, length, and time-dependent. The capability for investigating cardiac mechanics at the cellular level may help to distinguish between those properties of the myocardium which arise from myocardial cells and those which arise from the tissue architecture and extracellular matrix of connective fibers. We present here, for the first time, a general approach for subjecting single heart cells to isometric, isotonic, afterloaded, or physiological loading sequences, while obtaining on-line measures of cell force and length. This approach has been implemented and tested on freshly dissociated, adult frog ventricular myocytes. Examples are presented for each of the four loading sequences.

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