Qualitatively the mechanical, structural, and biochemical properties of airway smooth muscles resemble those of all other smooth muscle. However, one important distinguishing feature of airway smooth muscle is that the major portion of isotonic shortening is completed within the first 3 s in a muscle whose contraction is 10 s. This indicates the importance of focusing on the changes that occur in these 3 s and also the limiting role of the maximum velocity of shortening in determining shortening data. There is evidence that the maximum capacity and velocity of shortening in human bronchial smooth muscle from patients with asthma are significantly greater than those obtained from healthy siblings. In the demonstration in which cells in culture are arrested by withdrawing all fetal calf serum, the cells alter their phenotype to cells that are very long (more than 200 μ m) and shorten twice as much as cells freshly isolated when the tissue is new. Speculatively, if such cells developed in vivo they could account for the increased contractility of asthmatic airway smooth muscle. These cultured cells could also be excellent models for study of airway smooth muscle contractility. Stephens NL, Li W, Wang Y, Ma X. The contractile apparatus of airway smooth muscle: biophysics and biochemistry.