Work capacity and metabolic and morphologic characteristics of the human quadriceps muscle in response to unloading


Environmental Physiology Laboratory, Department of Physiology, Karolinska Institute, S-104 01 Stockholm, Sweden


Summary. The response of skeletal muscle to unweighting was studied in six healthy males who were subjected to four weeks of lowerlimb suspension. They performed three bouts of 30 consecutive maximal concentric knee extensions, before unloading and the day after (POST 1), 4 days after (POST 2) and 7 weeks after (REC) resumed weight-bearing. Peak torque of each contraction was recorded and work was calculated as the mean of the average peak torque for the three bouts and fatigability was measured as the decline in average peak torque over bouts. Needle biopsies were obtained from m. vastus lateralis of each limb before and at POST 1. Muscle fibre type composition and area, capillarity and the enzyme activities of citrate synthase (CS) and phosphofructo-kinase (PFK) were subsequently analysed. Mean average peak torque for the three bouts at POST 1, POST2 and REC was reduced (P < 0.05) by 17,13 and 7%, respectively. Fatigability was greater (P < 0.05) at POST 2 than before unloading. Type I, HA and IIB percentage, Type I and II area and capillaries per fibre of Type I and II did not change (P > 005) in response to unloading. The activity of CS, but not PFK, decreased (P < 0.5) after unloading. The weight-bearing limb showed no changes in the variables measured. The results of this study suggest that this human lowerlimb suspension model produces substantial impairments of work and oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle. The performance decrements are most likely induced by lack of weight-bearing.