1. AP causes a Ca2+
influx through the voltage-gated calcium channels.
2. The Ca2+
influx causes vesicles containing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to fuse with the plasma membrane, releasing acetylcholine out into the extracellular space between the motor neuron terminal and the motor end plate of the skeletal muscle fiber.
3. The calcium binds to the troponin → conformational change (troponin moves and exposes the myosin binding sites of the actin) → myosin can bind.
4. Myosin (which has ADP and inorganic phosphate bound to its nucleotide binding pocket and is in a ready state) binds to the newly uncovered binding sites on the thin filament (binding to the thin filament is very tightly coupled to the release of inorganic phosphate). Myosin is now bound to actin in the strong binding state. The release of ADP and inorganic phosphate are tightly coupled to the power stroke (actin acts as a cofactor in the release of inorganic phosphate, expediting the release). This will pull the Z-bands towards each other, thus shortening the sarcomere and the I-band.
5. ATP binds myosin, allowing it to release actin and be in the weak binding state (a lack of ATP makes this step impossible, resulting in the rigor state characteristic of rigor mortis). The myosin then hydrolyzes the ATP and uses the energy to move into the "cocked back" conformation. In general, evidence (predicted and in vivo) indicates that each skeletal muscle myosin head moves 10-12 nm each power stroke, however there is also evidence (in vitro) of variations (smaller and larger) that appear specific to the myosin isoform.
6. Steps 4-5 repeat as long as ATP is available and calcium is present on thin filament.
7. While the above steps are occurring, calcium is actively pumped back into the sarcoplasmic reticulum. When calcium is no longer present on the thin filament, the tropomyosin changes conformation back to its previous state so as to block the binding sites again. The myosin ceases binding to the thin filament, and the contractions cease.