Smooth muscle is an involuntary [non-[striated muscle]]. It is divided into two sub-groups; the single-unit (unitary) and multiunit smooth muscle. Within single-unit smooth muscle tissues, the autonomic nervous system innervates a single cell within a sheet or bundle and the action potential is propagated by gap junctions to neighboring cells such that the whole bundle or sheet contracts as a syncytium (i.e., a multinucleate mass of cytoplasm that is not separated into cells). Multiunit smooth muscle tissues innervate individual cells; as such, they allow for fine control and gradual responses, much like motor unit recruitment in skeletal muscle.
Smooth muscle is found within the walls of blood vessels (such smooth muscle specifically being termed vascular smooth muscle) such as in the tunica media layer of large (aorta) and small arteries, arterioles and veins. Smooth muscle is also found in lymphatic vessels, the urinary bladder, uterus (termed uterine smooth muscle), male and female reproductive tracts, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, arrector pili of skin, the ciliary muscle, and iris of the eye. The structure and function is basically the same in smooth muscle cells in different organs, but the inducing stimuli differ substantially, in order to perform individual effects in the body at individual times. In addition, the glomeruli of the kidneys contain smooth muscle-like cells called mesangial cells.
Most smooth muscle is of the single-unit variety, that is, either the whole muscle contracts or the whole muscle relaxes, but there is multiunit smooth muscle in the trachea, the large elastic arteries, and the iris of the eye. Single unit smooth muscle, however, is most common and lines blood vessels (except large elastic arteries), the urinary tract, and the digestive tract.