Slow tonic muscle fibers in the thyroarytenoid muscles of human vocal folds; a possible specialization for speech

Yingshi Han, Jun Wang, Donald A. Fischman, Hugh F. Biller, Ira Sanders

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Most of the sounds of human speech are produced by vibration of the vocal folds, yet the biomechanics and control of these vibrations are poorly understood. In this study the muscle within the vocal fold, the thyroarytenoid muscle (TA), was examined for the presence and distribution of slow tonic muscle fibers (STF), a rare muscle fiber type with unique contraction properties. Nine human TAs were frozen and serially sectioned in the frontal plane. The presence and distribution pattern of STF in each TA were examined by immunofluorescence microscopy using the monoclonal antibodies (mAb) ALD-19 and ALD-58 which react with the slow tonic myosin heavy chain (MyHC) isoform. In addition, TA muscle samples from adjacent frozen sections were also examined for slow tonic MyHC isoform by electrophoretic immunoblotting. STF were detected in all nine TAs and the presence of slow tonic MyHC isoform was confirmed in the immunoblots. The STF were distributed predominantly in the medial aspect of the TA, a distinct muscle compartment called the vocalis which is the vibrating part of the vocal fold. STF do not contract with a twitch like most muscle fibers, instead, their contractions are prolonged, stable, precisely controlled, and fatigue resistant. The human voice is characterized by a stable sound with a wide frequency spectrum that can be precisely modulated and the STF may contribute to this ability. At present, the evidence suggests that STF are not presented in the vocal folds of other mammals (including other primates), therefore STF may be a unique human specialization for speech.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-157
Number of pages12
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Oct 1999


  • Larynx
  • Phonation
  • Slow tonic myosin heavy chain isoform
  • Speech
  • Thyroarytenoid muscle
  • Voice


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